Baby Sleep Advice

I used to dispense a lot of advice about helping babies sleep, because we had so much trouble early on with Ben, and then ongoing difficulties with the first year for Rex, that we learned a lot about what worked for them. Many of our friends tried some of what we learned, often to good effect, but it shaped the advice I give, too. A colleague asked on Quora about help with getting a 5-month-old to sleep, and I wrote a long response that I reproduce here, because with Quora you never know if a response will wind up staying in place or not:I have a sample size of two, so take that for what it's worth (one is now 3 and the other 6, so this is still sharp in memory). Swaddling: You have to do it consistently for it to work, based on my experience and those of what seems like dozens of friends and correspondents back when I posted a swaddling video on my blog six years ago. We used to go to "first weeks" groups here in Seattle, which were facilitated by an RN/lactation consultant, but meant for support and information exchange among new parents. I learned a lot about swaddling there, including from second-time parents who had a round the first time. Swaddling is an art, no matter how easy the baby video makes it. I watched Happiest Baby a million times, and could never keep our older in the swaddle. There's a double-blanket swaddle that worked well for us, plus the Miracle Blanket, which is a kind of prefab/velcro swaddling kit around which you can wrap a warmer receiving blanket in winter months. (Both our kids had terrible reflux, too, even when treated with medication, so they slept for their first six months on a prescription wedge from the local children's hospital. Swaddling was critical so they didn't slip out of the wedge in their cribs.) However, at five months, you're at or past the swaddling point for most kids. You use a swaddle to prevent the Moro Reflex, one of a few atavistic baby actions that they all grow out of. The Moro is the startle reflex which causes them to put out all their limbs and try to grab; makes sense if you're a baby ape falling off your mommy. Not so much trying to sleep on your back. The other is the flailing hands, with which a baby wakes him- or herself. When the Moro Reflex fades (which is does around this point from my reading and observation), and kids are more coordinated with limbs (they want a thumb now), the swaddling is far less necessary. In your room: If you're not engaged in attachment parenting, which it sounds like you're not, there's not much point for a healthy baby who doesn't need nighttime monitoring to be in the same room if you have the space to move the baby elsewhere. You and they wake each other up. He can also smell you, and he also knows you're waking up and responding if you're trying to lie there still. So that's a thought. Our post-partum doula (more on her in a moment) made that an early suggestion with our firstborn, and it was a great one at the point at which we could do it. (She said have him nap in his crib even when he was in a cosleeper in our room at night as part of the transition of spending sleep time in another room.) "the only thing that consoles him is feeding": This is a tricky subject. I am not a doctor nor lactation consultant, nor pretend this is medical advice. Nor have I seen your baby, so there's that, too. But I will tell you from my kids and my community of babies/toddlers/kids I have known over the last seven years, there are two main factors at play here. One: Does the baby need to feed based on actual need overnight? Only your pediatrician or nurse practitioner can advise you on that. On the whole, clearly by this time, very few babies actually have the requirement of feeding at night more than once, and many not at all. Past six months, and I believe the received wisdom is that they can sleep overnight (meaning maybe 8 or 9 pm to 5 or 6 am being "overnight") without a feeding. However, your baby is low percentile, and your medical authority may have other advice. (Part of the percentile issue is whether or not a kid is on the curve. If they started 50th and declined to 10th, it's a very different issue than if they started at 10th and remained squarely on 10th.) We have a friend nearby who just had her third kid. Her first two are perfectly healthy, and had metabolisms that were insane. They lost weight while you looked at them. Her doctor advised supplementing breastfeeding with half-and-half (I kid you not), and that did help increase body weight until they could eat substantial solid food. Two: How much can you tolerate of your kid complaining, crying, wailing? It's a very large issue. I have had friends where the instant the baby cried, they were in the room, and, consequently were helping the child get to sleep for the next four years every night. There was no self-comforting, which is a critical skill. (Attachment parenting folks have a different orientation on self-comforting, but it's there just the same; it's a different kind of facilitation at different ages, not pandering to the baby.) We had a very low tolerance for crying/wailing (crying = distress, wailing = complaint; I know we're not unique in differentiating those two, but some parents hear them and some kids make them the same way). When our first baby was just a bear about sleeping, we hired a post-partum doula. She gave us advice on the "crying it out" subject. In her view, that could mean 10 seconds, 1 minute, a hour--whatever we could tolerate as long as we knew the baby was fine. She recommended a baby video monitor so we could be sure our kid wasn't in actual danger or distress. This was a great idea. We could not get through the night with our older, and after getting this advice, we let him cry for a few minutes, comforted (no feeding) briefly, then left the room, let him cry a bit longer, same routine; longer intervals each time. The first night, this went on for an hour. Then he slept all night. Holy cow! The second night, five minutes. We basically never had nighttime sleep issues again. Our second was much fussier, and we went through rounds of this for months, with weeks at a time going well, until he hit 14 months. It wasn't torture, but it was difficult, as we didn't have a third room to put him in, and he couldn't be in with his brother, as his nighttime cries would wake his brother up. Our second didn't wake every night, but he was a lighter sleeper. However, feeding him at night after about 6-8 months didn't help him sleep better, so we just had to work through him learning to comfort himself. (From 14 months to present, he generally sleeps well at night, though. He's still more mercurial than his brother. Personalities win over sleep training.) The period between five and six months is always hard, from what I have seen and read. All of our friends who had babies later than us have gone through this. A friend a few months ago was complaining that his baby's regular sleep was all wonky, and I said, he just turned 5 months, right? The answer was, yes, just a few days before. It's part of the development cycle. Finally, consider outside help, whether a parenting group, a consultation with a lactation consultant or practical nurse or whomever who specializes in sleep and feeding, or a post-partum doula, which profession is sometimes specialized into sleep coach in parts of the country. In Seattle, we turned to Mary Ellen Gabrielson, who helped us with sleep for both kids. She was invaluable. She is part of a tradition of doulas and post-partum doulas in the Northwest (which is where, I think, both professions spread from). Where a doula is there to be a mother's assistant during birth, a post-partum doula is there for the baby and family to help them make the transition into family life without going insane. Mary Ellen cooked and cleaned, dispensed lactation advice, gave us tips and demonstrations on getting the babies to sleep, and so forth. She is a gem, but there are many people in that position you can find. Doula Match is likely a good place to start, but then make sure and get personal recommendations from a couple people at least for anyone you might hire. I don't believe any state has any kind of licensing guidelines, so you want references as a result. Edit

Deep Thoughts on the Light Rail

I've never lived in a city with anything but buses before. Eugene (Ore.), New Haven (Conn.), Camden (Maine): all small to medium-sized towns. Seattle's a big city, but it pretends not to be. Light rail and streetcars might help it grow up.

Beacon Hill Station

I rode the Link Light Rail system today for the first time; it opened just one week ago. This is the long-awaited light rail system that Seattle has been avoiding building for decades, with the population and politicians deluding themselves into thinking both that sprawl wasn't happening and that we were still a small town. Fortunately, opposition was overcome, including budget changes that led to the initial system being far smaller than originally intended. Nonetheless, it's great. The station and system is quite well designed. On the north end, it ties in with the bus tunnel, a tube that runs from the southwest end of downtown to the northeast, allowing express travel through. The tunnel was originally designed to allow later light-rail upgrades, but the project had a flaw (in the interests of expense) that required expense rework when the time came. Again, nonetheless, it's great. The light-rail starts at Westlake Center on the north end, which is the heart of the retail district. The South Lake Union Train (SLUT), otherwise known as the Seattle Streetcar, terminates a half block from Westlake Center. The boys and I drove to the north end of the streetcar line, which seems nondescript today, having just the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and related treatment centers and biotech firms, but is slated to become Amazon's home starting next year. Thousands of additional workers will be along the north end of the line. One of my great desires is that people like the streetcar enough that a budget's proposed to extend it north to the University of Washington. That plus light rail would make UW a far less car-heavy place and reduce the cost of attending for those who live south.

Beacon Hill Station
Beacon Hill Station

We found cheap multi-hour parking in a lot, took the streetcar to Westlake, went down to the train, and took light rail to Beacon Hill, a few stops past downtown, to visit a library we hadn't seen yet. The whole experience was glorious, like living in a different, better city, in which--golly!--a car wasn't even desirable. On the way south, I chatted with a molecular biologist who lived in Mount Baker (one stop south of Beacon Hill) and worked at the Hutch. He had the perfect commute now, living 1/2 mile from the Mount Baker station. At the Beacon Hill library, a heavily mobility impaired gent in a wheelchair heard Ben saying we had just gotten off the light rail, and he waxed enthusiastic about the system, saying he'd never come to this library before. I realized that despite all Metro buses having handicapped accessibility, it's a hassle. You have to wait at a stop, typically in the hot outdoors, for an undetermined period of time (for late buses). The driver has to lower the bus (kneeling buses) or extend the ramp. Then you have to strapped or wheel in. Then the driver has to strap you into the seat area. With light rail, it's self-serve. Elevators are everywhere and fast. The Beacon Hill station is 165 feet (14 stories) below street level, but there were several elevators, and it took maybe 15 seconds from top to bottom. The trains are designed with minimal gaps so a wheelchair can safely roll on or off. Nifty. Someone smart would start building accessible housing (maybe with subsidies) near new and planned lightrail stations for just this reason. Or maybe it's already happened. On the way back, the trains were full but not packed with Sounders fans. The Mariners had a game scheduled for 1.15 pm; the Sounders for noon; there's a 6.30 pm road run (6,000 people) and then a 7.30 pm torchlight parade. Craziness! Parking downtown is always expensive, and driving through downtown is tedious with a light every block, buses everywhere, tourists crossing en masse. This suddenly makes downtown exceptionally appealing. The next extension of light rail will come to our neighborhood, but not until 2016 (assuming it's on schedule, which is possible). The extension that voters approved goes from downtown to UW, and might pass nearly under our house. Not hoping for that (unless I could put a chute to hop on a train in the basement), but it will likely be deep enough that we won't feel anything. We're finally developing a world-class city here.

Worst Days and Better Days

We all took a trip to Port Townsend over last weekend to visit my dad, who is doing as well as one might do after losing a lifelong love who he'd been married to just shy of 44 years and known since he was a child. The biggest sign that mom was gone was that dad and my aunt had sorted through decades of stuff that my mom had kept in the interests of someday needing it. No longer, sadly. The house was free of clutter; the car was clean; those kinds of changes told me more about mom being gone than her physical absence.

PT treated us well. The weather was gorgeous, sometimes a bit hot even, unusual for the place. We took the boys to a gorgeous flight museum (the Port Townsend Aero Museum right at the Jefferson County airstrip). It's more of interest to serious pilots and enthusiasts than to the likes of us, but the boys enjoyed it for a few minutes, and we were happy to give the operation our money!

Presenting the 1923 Model T Ford!

Here's Ben in front of a 1923 car that they included in the exhibit for context, I think, and to show off its beautiful restoration. Digression. I thought, okay, our house was built in 1922. This was the car that fit into there. Lynn and my dad were of the mind that, no, the person who could afford our house wouldn't have afforded a car. So how did people get around? Three blocks from our house in one direction would have been a main trolley line of some kind. Most likely a few blocks the other way, there was probably another. Most people took public transportation! So there you go. Our house probably did not, in fact, have a car in its garage until later!

The trip challenged the boys and us a bit, in a good way. For nearly five years, Lynn and I have kept to a lot of routine, because it keeps the kids happy and safe, and keeps them sleeping so we have enough energy to get through the day. We are fortunate that Ben was and is a good sleeper, and that Rex has transitioned into one. You can't choose that about your kid or force it. We have friends who have tried everything, and still have trouble getting their kids through the night. (Fortunately, from what I know from parents of older kids, the rugrats eventually start reading or having things they focus on, and if they're awake while you're asleep, you just convince them that it's in their best interests to quietly pursue those activities.)

The first time since Rex was born that he slept outside of a crib in our room or the boys' room was on our trip to Maine last October. He did fantastically well, as did Ben. This is only the second time we've taken a trip with Rex away, and he slept on a travel bed with very short foam "walls." He did fine. The kids were up and shrieking at each other at 6 am or so both mornings, but they slept all night, and so we were all in good enough spirits and had enough energy to enjoy the day.

Beach at Fort Worden

(I harp on sleep, but I fear that all four of us do very poorly without enough of it, so much so that we just have crummy days most of the time. Recently, I've had a few crazy interruptions, such as being up til 2 am nursing a server, and slept far less than usual--about 5 hours that night. The testament to how well we're managing is that some nights like that don't ruin my working week or family time.)


PT is often quite moderate in temperature, especially compared to Seattle. When it's 85°F in Seattle, it'll be 70 or so in PT. So we had the pleasant surprise that when we went to a sandy beach at Fort Worden, the park at which Lynn and I were married in 2002, it was warm enough to get into suits and build sand castles. We came back better prepared the next day, too.

The kids had a great time. So did I, and I'll speak for Lynn and my dad, after having solicited their opinion: they did, too. We'll probably take a brief sojourn again up there in August, and then we're heading to Oregon for a wedding (my brother-in-law Michael and his fiancée Kathy) where my dad, sister, Lynn's folks, and potentially my niece will help keep the kids in line! I'm officiating (!!), and Lynn's the best woman.

Work Day, Snow Day

Yesterday, Seattle was bone dry, but the schools closed because a storm was expected. A strange "doughnut hole" (mmmmmmm) settled around the city, though, deflecting the storm. The radar maps were bizarre, like someone had put a literal circle around central Seattle. The 'burbs and other areas were getting some snow, with significant amounts north and east, but not Seattle.Parents bitched (I'll be one of them some day) at having the kidlings home on a day when the weather turned out cold but perfect, but the same parents would have bitched if the schools were open and then buses were sent out on slippery roads for early dismissal with inches of snow on the ground. It sucks, but better to keep the kids safe. This morning, we woke up to a few inches of real snow and about 30° outside. School was closed today (so our childcare was also closed), and has already been canceled tomorrow. The roads aren't bad, but they're slushy and we're supposed to drop to 18° overnight. Since I'm self employed and have an office outside the house, you'd think I could be productive even at home. Not quite. I did get a few hours of work in, but was too interested and excited by the snow, as well as being too helpful (I think) to my darling wife who managed the kids all day. snowday_1218.jpg I wanted desperately to play hooky but had too much to do. I may succumb tomorrow if trapped at home again. More snow is expected over the weekend, but then warmer temperatures. Every few years, we get a big snow in Seattle before Christmas--this wasn't quite it, as it was just a few inches, not the several to a foot that we've had some times in the past. sledding_12818.jpg

Vacation, Rexalocution

I've been meaning to write something here about our awesome vacation in Maine, spent largely on Mount Desert Island. It was awesome in that it went so well, not awesome like it put 3 years back on my life. The boys traveled generally very well. Both wound up with ear infections a few days in, but responded well to treatment. We all slept mostly fine; we all generally did a few things we really wanted to. Lynn and I really want to go back in a couple years when the kids will be able to do more.We had a bunch of firsts. First time Rex slept away from home since brought home from the hospital. This is nearly ridiculous at 18 months, but there you go. Friends and family have been nice enough to come to us. (Ben has spent several nights away from home this year.) First time Rex flew! (Fourth time for Ben.) He didn't understand the "must stay pretty much in your seat" rule at first, but got used to it. Ben and Rex passed out for most of the return flight, JFK to SEA. First time we all slept in one room. We've been lucky enough to have the boys together for several months, but we've never had or needed to sleep in one room. We did that in a hotel the first night, and it went just fine. Lynn and Ben slept in one bed, I slept in another, and Rex slept in a pack and play provided by the hotel. We all went to bed at about 2 a.m. Eastern! First family vacation. Ben has traveled to visit family, but at various of their houses. This was Lynn's brother and sister and their significant others and Lynn's folks at a vacation locale. Very nice. With my folks recently moved to Port Townsend where my aunt and uncle settled full time over a year ago, we'll have more trips there in the future. First time for either boy in Maine! Yay! Yay! First time various of my friends and Lynn's relatives met Ben and Rex. First rented minivan. During the trip, Rex's elocution, vocabulary, and grammar went through the roof. We've seen this before: whenever Ben was in close contact with family for a few days, a development jump occurred. Rex started becoming a mimic on the trip, repeating things -- the best was "hot pursuit!" -- as well as pronouncing multiple syllable words like "driveway." One of the best moments of the trip was after we'd landed in Seattle, and Ben was still passed out and Rex just recently awake. We managed our way off the plane, grabbed our gate-checked gear, and headed to baggage check. The boys were giggly and very happy. They were certainly pleased to be home. I asked Ben while Lynn was off at a restroom whether he had missed home. He said, "Not so much because there were so many fun things to do." Which is great: I'd worried he'd been a little constrained and bored. The flip side: he'd had six other adults talking and playing with him at various times. I love this picture of Ben because it looks like he's seriously out in the middle of a lake kayaking. What you can't quite tell from the photo is that there's a line tied to the kayak, his grandpa is a few feet away in the water, the water is about a foot deep, and he's about 5 feet from shore! He was ready to go scooting off a mile into the lake, though. (He's also wearing a life jacket.)

Oh, Croup

The boys have had the croup, a lovely catchall term that encompasses any virus that blossoms into a sort of respiratory ailment in infants and toddlers that makes it hard for them to breathe and comes with a racking cough.Ben developed it Friday night, woke around 11 in some distress, and after consulting with our insurance company's excellent registered nurse hotline, Lynn took him to Children's Hospital's emergency department. They were there for hours, Ben did fine; he was given a mild steroid and sent home. That was pretty much it. He has a horrible sounding but increasingly infrequent cough, and he's had no distress. Since croup is caused by a virus, it was likely that Rex would develop the same cold or flu, and then it might (but wasn't guaranteed) to also turn into croup. Rex slept through most of Ben's tumult on Friday night, but started to sleep poorly on Saturday, skipping naps in the day and waking or not going down at night. Through dint of hard effort, we managed to get him to sleep mostly for a few days, and then went through the ringer Monday and Tuesday night. We've been playing musical beds. On Friday night, Lynn and Ben returned from the E.D. and slept in our downstairs guest room. Saturday night, I think Rex eventually slept in our room, Ben stayed in his. On Sunday night, if I can remember right, Ben and Lynn slept downstairs, Rex slept in his crib, and I slept in the parental bedroom. Last night, I slept downstairs, Ben in his room, Lynn and Rex in our bed. Whew. All of this typically happening at 11 or midnight or 1 am.


Happier days

Rex also developed a high fever last night and the croup appeared full bloom. So we gave him Motrin to reduce the fever, consulted the nurse hotline, and used a steamy bathroom and the cold outside to improve his breathing. We also started him on a steroid our pediatrician had prescribed in case the croup went over the top. The nurse on the insurance hotline said croup has an 11 pm to 5 am "schedule," unfortunately. The worst croup symptoms typically pass in 48 hours, everyone has told us. We took Rex in to the pediatrician again today to make sure there was no ear infection, and that nothing else was going on. Fortunately, he was otherwise fine. The doc thought last night might have been the worst of it, given that he some croup symptoms for more than a day already. If we're lucky, tonight won't be so bad and then we'll settle back into a routine. Rex only slept an hour mid-day today, not giving Lynn or I enough time for a nap, and woke nearly inconsolable. Lynn and I worked like crazy, and she was able to get him back into bed with her where they dozed for about 90 minutes. Then back to inconsolable. We wound up taking him for a walk in a jog stroller which cheered him up quite a lot, and spent some more time on the phone with our pediatrician, making sure the steroid or something else wasn't at work with his horrible mood. Didn't seem to be. He was a little better later in the day, but he really feels horrible. Ben didn't feel to bad during most of this, and he's older, so he'd prefer to play than to complain, it seems. We think Rex may also be in the middle of a bad teething bout, which led to me putting on some Orajel on his gums to soothe that part. The poor guy. We're just losing sleep (we're getting 4 or 5 hours a night in many different pieces, most of the last several nights); he's the one who feels like death warmed over. The good news (for us at least) is that the parents are coming. My folks will likely be in Port Townsend in a matter of weeks. PT is about two hours' drive away, and I know that in a pinch we could ask for their help. Lynn's folks will likely be living about 35 to 45 minutes' north sometime soon--maybe 6 months away, but more likely a year, as they are waiting for a rental unit to open up. The problem, of course, is that you don't want to expose your parents to the diseases in your home, but perhaps we'll get surgical masks and gloves. There may be times where we just need someone to make a meal, make sure the kids don't start playing with carving knives, and we grab a spare hour sleep. I now understand fully why you aren't supposed to move away from your parents! Don't pity us too much. We're generally well, just worried about the kids and sleep deprived. Most people in the world are worse off than us. We can afford to worry; I was able to shift some freelance responsibilities and stay home today, and may do the same tomorrow if needed. We'll get through this, but it's about the toughest experience in my parenting life. Even the horrible stomach flu last fall left us all week and sleepy, so we were sleeping, just not well. Update: Rex is over the worst. He was awake from about 10.30 to 11.30 pm last night, but I think more out of habit. His croup-y cough was gone, he didn't have an "attack," and he got back to sleep after only a bit of wailing, and slept til 6, waking happy. Ben and Lynn still retreated to sleep in the basement, but we might be back to normal tonight. The scariest part yesterday of Rex's unhappiness is that he wouldn't play -- he hardly played at all yesterday, and that was scarier than most of the other behavior.

Vacation Over; Get Back to Work

I'm back at the office today after 10 days of not really working very much. The days were filled with boys; the nights with a little TV, conversation with a woman, apparently my wife, whom I spend too little time talking with in normal day-to-day existence, and some minor programming tasks. While 10 days with teh fambly can be exhausting--the boys are rather demanding--it was a big hoot, and went well until the end, when Rex got a small cold and went into teething overdrive. He's doing better today.The key to keeping the kids happy is to get out of the house, and Lynn and I took the boys individually and collectively to dozens of playgrounds and parks. The weekend before last, Lynn took Ben down to Hood River to visit her brother and his girlfriend, while I had Rex for about 2 1/2 days. We had fun, although it got a bit unrelenting towards the end! On Monday, I actually took the day off, Ben was in childcare, and Rex was with Lynn for some time back with mommy. I saw Hellboy II; I liked it! On Tuesday, Lynn and I did a day date with Ben at school and Rex with a babysitter. We went to the Seattle Art Museum, had lunch, and saw Bottleshock with Alan Rickman. (A bit of a mish-mosh of a film, but still very enjoyable.) Wednesday, my body said, whoa, and I collapsed a bit. I had a bug or something, and had to stay in bed late and then slept three hours in the middle of the day. The next day, I was able to give Lynn some relief, though, and she got out of the house on her own. I felt myself quite quickly. It might have been exhaustion, too, because I felt better so fast. On Friday, we went to Bainbridge Island, visiting Fay Bainbridge Park briefly (twice) and Bloedel Reserve, a foundation-run former estate with quite lovely grounds, plantings, ponds, and buildings. It's marvelous and low key. Rex had his first ferry trip. 2810059766_48dd14dd23_m.jpg 2810186370_e47810066c_m.jpg Saturday, we had friends over in the evening; Sunday, the Evergreen Fair; and yesterday, we split up a bit so Lynn and I could have some individual sanity before we resumed our normal schedule today. Lynn and I have been married six years as of yesterday--the event is important, but not the precise date, so we had a very hectic day, and we'll celebrate soon.

Conversation on Dung Beetles

Ben: The dung is on the plane! [after reading about dung beetles in a book]Me: I don't think dung really needs to be on a plane. Ben: The dung is flying the plane. Me: But dung is an inanimate object. Like a rock. Can a rock fly a plane? Ben: Yes! A rock can fly a plane! Me: I would prefer not to fly that airline.