Adjusted Age

One of the first things you learn about your baby is their due date. As soon as you tell people you are expecting they want to know, "What's your due date?" It seems like your entire life is now centered around this one day and in a lot of ways it is. But just when you think you have a month, or two weeks, or two days left, your baby decides their birthday is going to be a little sooner than you expected. (Welcome to parenthood!) Thankfully your baby is happy and healthy and you already put together the crib! 

As you seek advice on different developmental milestones you may notice your child isn't hitting them at the age you expect them to. This may be because they arrived before their due date and you need to be using their adjusted age. This can be very important when using different sleep techniques with your child. You don't want to set them up for something they aren't biologically equipped for. 

To find the adjusted age for a baby born early, simply use their due date as if it were their birthdate. You can do this by subtracting the amount of time they are early (according to their due date) from their actual birthdate. So if your baby is four months old but was born one month before their due date, their adjusted age is three months. If your child is born on or after their due date, you can use their birthdate because their adjusted age is the same as their actual age. 

Adjusted age is a baby's age based on their due date.

Actual Age - Weeks or Months born early= Adjusted Age

Using your baby's adjusted age can help determine whether your child is ready to be sleeping through the night, in their own room, or ready for sleep training. Most babies are able to sleep through the night between four to six months, based on their adjusted age. You wouldn't want to try sleep training a four month old who's adjusted age is only three months because they might not be ready. 

Don't worry, you wont be sending your child off to college based on their adjusted age, you can stop relying on it around the time your child reaches their second birthday. 

Don't Forget to Read the Fine Print!

     These days there are so many different tools out there to help your child fall asleep. I know lots of parents who swear by various swings, pillows, and crib accessories. These products can be very helpful for co-sleeping or having a place to set your wiggly infant while you attend to something close by but what a lot of people don't realize is that these products aren't intended to be used for unsupervised sleep.  

Here is some info from the FAQ page of the DockATot website. 

Here is the info under "Safe Sleep" on the Boppy website. 

Always be sure to read all of the product information that comes with any product and just because one family uses a product one way does not mean it is the safe way. Getting your child's sleep on the right track from the beginning can help eliminate the need for these products and ensure your child the safest and best sleep possible!  

The Five S's

     One of my favorite child sleep books is "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp. It's a quick read with an interesting perspective on babies from many different cultures. It is a great tool for new born babies (what Dr. Karp calls the "4th trimester") and how to keep them calm and get them to sleep. 

     Dr. Karp calls the first 3 months of a baby's life the 4th trimester because he believes they still crave that feeling of being in the womb and that some babies are so fussy because they aren't quite ready for this big hectic world. The main focus of his book is the 5 different techniques, all beginning with S, he finds helpful in recreating this safe and calming atmosphere. Here is a list of the 5 techniques and how and why they work!

Swaddle

      Swaddling a fussy or sleeping baby can help give them that snug feeling of being inside the womb. It also prevents them from agitating themselves with their own flailing arms. 

Side or Stomach Position 

     While the back is the only safe position for a sleeping baby, holding a fussy baby on their side or stomach can help calm them sometimes instantly. 

Shush

     When your baby is inside the womb they hear the shushing sound of blood flow which can be as loud as a vacuum! A white noise machine (set on a continuous static sound) can be used for a fussy or sleeping baby to help recreate this familiar sound.      

Swing

     Babies do quite a bit of jiggling inside the womb- this is why a lot of babies love car rides! It is a natural thing for many parents to try to calm a fussy baby with these small quick movements. Try moving your child no more than an inch, back and forth, while supporting the head and neck, and see if this helps with any fussiness. 

Suck

     I don't think it is any surprise that babies love to suck, whether it is while feeding, a pacifier, or on their finger or thumb. You can use a pacifier during the 4th trimester but as they get older you may find they enjoy sucking their thumb, which is a great self soothing mechanism. 

 

     Try using some or all 5 of these methods to calm your baby during the 4th trimester. Using the swaddle and white noise can help tons with sleep during this time and white noise can even be used indefinitely to help your child sleep. Be careful though, because after your baby is 4 months these may no longer be as useful. Every child is different and with a little practice and patience you will find exactly what works for you and your baby.

What things have your found to help calm your fussy baby during this 4th trimester? 

Sleep Crutches vs. Sleep Associations

      It can be very easy to get sleep crutches and sleep associations confused (especially in the middle of the night with a crying baby). They both can help your child fall asleep but a sleep association helps your child fall asleep on their own while a sleep crutch is something your baby depends on you for. Both of these things can be very addictive (very quickly) for a baby because babies love a routine! Once something becomes a part of their routine, they look for it every time. I find many sleep issues stem from having too many sleep crutches and not enough positive sleep associations. Hopefully this post will help clear up some confusion and keep you on the right track!

Sleep Crutches

     A sleep crutch is something that your child can not control on their own and requires you or your presence. Some examples are:

 If you find your child is falling asleep in the car you may need to adjust their nap schedule! 

If you find your child is falling asleep in the car you may need to adjust their nap schedule! 

  • Rocking/ Swinging/ Bouncing
  • Singing/ Shushing
  • Car/ Stroller RIdes
  • Swing
  • Vibration 
  • Back Rubbing
  • Nursing/Bottle 

     It is easy to end up with an infant dependent on sleep crutches because these are great tools for getting a newborn to sleep. Babies younger than four months* are not able to form bad sleep habits or adhere to a schedule so it's actually okay to implement these tools. BUT once the get closer to four months is it important to be aware of these sleep crutches you can start replacing them with positive sleep associations.

     The reason sleep crutches turn into a bad thing is because your child starts to depend on you to fall asleep, even in the middle of the night. You may enjoy the special time with your child before bed that includes some of these things like singing and rocking. There is no reason to stop doing these things as long as they are done when you child is still awake and you are not using them as tools to get your child to sleep. You may find it is better to nurse or feed your baby towards the beginning of your bedtime routine, maybe before you read a book or sing a song. If you find your child is always falling asleep while eating you may need to move their bedtime up or start their bedtime routine a little earlier! This way your child doesn't depend on these things in the middle of the night and is able to fall back asleep on their own without them.

Sleep Associations 

     A sleep association is different from a sleep crutch in that it is available to your child through out the night and doesn't require your presence. Some examples are:

 A teddy bear is easy for your child to find on their own in the middle of the night and can help them go back to sleep more easily. 

A teddy bear is easy for your child to find on their own in the middle of the night and can help them go back to sleep more easily. 

  • Swaddle
  • White Noise
  • Lovey/ Blankie/ Teddy
  • Crib
  • Thumb Sucking
  • Dark Room

     Sleep associations are great because they signal to your child that it is time to sleep and help them fall asleep on their own, even if they wake up in the middle of the night. Like adults, it is normal for children to wake up several times throughout the night between sleep cycles. If your child depends on sleep associations rather than sleep crutches, they can easily fall back asleep without ever having to alert you!

Pacifiers

 A pacifier may or may not be a sleep crutch for your child. If you have to hold it for them, it most likely is a sleep crutch.

A pacifier may or may not be a sleep crutch for your child. If you have to hold it for them, it most likely is a sleep crutch.

      Now you must be wondering where pacifiers fit in all of this! I have purposefully left them out until now so that we can focus on them a little bit more because they can be quite tricky. (I could probably write a whole post about them.) Parents have many different reasons for choosing to give their child a pacifier or not and I'm not here to tell you, you should or you shouldn't. I'll try to do my best to explain what role they play in child sleep so you can decide on your own. 

     A pacifier isn't a sleep crutch as long as you don't have to replace it throughout the night. This may mean it stays in your child's mouth all night or your child is able to replace it on their own. Some parents place several extras in the crib to help their child find one more easily. Some children only need the pacifier to fall asleep at bedtime and can fall asleep easily without one when they wake up in the night. 

     If your child wakes up looking for the pacifier and depends on you to replace it, it may be time to ditch it. Some people find it easier to use the pacifier up until the four month mark and then stop using it when they begin teaching their child healthy sleep habits. Some children are able to have a pacifier without any issues through the night. 

     You may find your child will find their thumb and start sucking on it in place of the pacifier. This can be a good alternative since they always have their thumb and can find it easily in the night! 

Consistency is Key

      Like with most things involving child sleep, consistency is key.  When your child reaches four months it is best to stick to a routine that doesn't introduce any sleep crutches and instead uses positive sleep associations to get your child to sleep. Rocking your child to sleep one time can very quickly turn into rocking your child to sleep several times a night! If your baby has already developed some crutches, try eliminating one at a time and replace it with a sleep association when possible. Decide how you would like to wean them from this habit (that might be cold turkey) and stick to the plan as best as possible! 

 

* Age adjusted. To find adjusted age, use the due date as the birthday for any babies born early and used the actual birthday for any babies born on or after their due date. 

Sleep Cues

     Wouldn't it be great if your baby could just say "Yo Ma, I'm sleepy!" and you could just lay them down for their nap? Maybe in another universe where there are no dirty dishes or laundry, but here on earth it's a little different. The good news is your baby does have ways of telling you they are tired. It may just take a little trial and error for you and your baby to figure out their sleepy language. 

     Sleep cues are your baby's way of signaling they are ready to sleep. Before the age of four months you will use these to help your child go to sleep whenever they feel tired. After four months, you will use these to help you tweak your baby's new sleep schedule. As they get older you will be able to make special adjustments to their daily sleep schedule. (Maybe you had a big day at the zoo and a sleep cue can signal a early bedtime is in order!)  Every child is different but eventually you will be able to speak your child's sleep language fluently.

 This baby is starting to look sleepy. 

This baby is starting to look sleepy. 

      Some examples of sleep cues are red eyes, rubbing eyes, pulling on ears, yawning, blank stares, sucking thumb/finger, less vocal, more vocal, pulling on hair, stretching, rubbing blankie, or droopy eyelids. 

       Now here is the tricky part- if you start to notice sleep cues, it may be too late! Ideally you want to already be preparing for your nap or bedtime when the sleep cues appear. (Think of sleep cues like hunger pangs. You want to be eating before you feel like you are starving right?) At first this might seem impossible, as sometimes they appear out of nowhere. But once you get the hang of things you can use sleep cues to help establish a schedule that fits your child and avoids any over-tiredness. Trying to put an over-tired child to sleep can be as disastrous as trying to put a child down that isn't tired at all. You want to find that sweet spot between awake and over tired using your sleep cue GPS.

 This kid is TIRED!   

This kid is TIRED!

 

     An over-tired behavior in one child may be the same as a sleep cue for another child. (And some kids might not show any sleep cues and go straight to showing an over-tired behavior.) If your child is over-tired you might notice they seem upset, irritable, they may cry/scream, or start acting out. You may also notice your child doesn't seem tired at all and may seem to have lots of energy (I told you this was tricky!) 

     A great way to avoid any over-tiredness is to follow a consistent sleep schedule while being mindful of sleep cues. Sleep cues can be especially helpful when babies are learning how to self soothe! Watch the clock to see when your child tells you they are sleepy and try to adjust a little each day until you notice their sleep cues as you are already in their sleep routine. You may get so good your child never displays any sleep cues at all! 

Is Merlin's Sleepsuit Really Magic?

      There are tons of products out there that claim to be the solution to all of your child's sleep problems. I wish I could say, "None of these products work ever, for anyone!" but that isn't the case. A lot of these products do work. That's the problem. 
       I personally never recommend any of these products because they can prevent your child from learning how to put themselves to sleep and creating healthy sleep habits on their own. And as always, my biggest concern is safety. If it isn't safe you should NEVER use it no matter how much it helps your child fall or stay asleep. While Baby Merlin's Magic Sleepsuit is safe and can be very affective, I'm not quite convinced it's a must-have. 

PROS

     Merlin's Magic Sleepsuit definitely isn't one of the worst sleep products out there. It's as safe as a sleep sac (which I do recommend) and I believe it does help your child fall asleep and stay asleep. So the PRO is that the product is safe and it works. What's the problem? 

CONS

      Basically the problem is it works great, until it doesn't. The suit works by muffling your baby's movements and claims to help with transitioning from the swaddle. But just like rocking or feeding, your child can start depending on the suit to fall asleep and sleep through the night. As much as I wish they made one in my size, eventually your child will outgrow the suit or start rolling over in it. Once they are no longer able to use the suit, you can end up with a new set of sleep issues. Your baby hasn't learned how to deal with their movements at night and can startle themselves when they no longer have the comfort of the suit. It may take a few nights for your child to adjust to sleep without the suit but be patient and make sure you don't find other ways to fill this new void your baby may be feeling. 
      Another thing to take into account is cost. At $39.95 for each size (there are two sizes), you could end up spending over $80 and still end up with a child who has trouble self soothing. 

      The best thing to do is avoid anything that can become a sleep crutch. Too many times I see parents use products before giving their child the chance to show them they can sleep great all on their own! While this suit may seem magic, it's just another sleep crutch in disguise. Save yourself the money and trouble and skip this product all together. 

     Of course if you ever need help with any transition, I'm always available for personalized support! 

The "Less is More" Nursery

    When it comes to baby products, I'm a big believer in less is more. It can be easy to get caught up in buying every product that claims to be "the best", "magic", or "a must have". When it comes to getting your child to sleep there are only a few products that I would consider necessary, while there are tons that create more problems than they solve. Here are some things that help your child get their best sleep and what to look for when shopping for these items. 

Crib

     This might seem like an obvious one but there are so many unnecessary (and sometimes unsafe) items people put in the crib. All you need in your crib is a firm mattress with a fitted sheet. That's it! You don't need a bumper, a mobile, pillows, toys, or any other distractions for your baby. A crib should be a place your baby wants to sleep and only sleep. 

Black Out Shades

   Once you have a safe place for your baby to sleep,  you want to keep your baby from getting distracted by making the room as dark as possible. This also makes your baby feel like they are back in the safety of the womb. A great way to get the darkest room is to use black out shades or curtains. I find Redi-Shades (found at any home depot, Lowe's, or Amazon) are cheap, easy to install, and do a great job.

     Even small lights from electronics can be bright and distracting to your baby. A simple fix is covering them with some black electrical tape. You may also need to block any light coming in from under the door. 

 With all of the electronics in your babies room, this might be what they see when you turn out the lights!

With all of the electronics in your babies room, this might be what they see when you turn out the lights!

White Noise Machine

    Now that you have created a safe and dark space for your baby I recommend getting a white noise machine. (I like this one!) This helps calm your baby by emulating the sound of the womb. It is important that your white noise machine plays a sound that is continuous and not something that repeats (e.g. waves and jungle sounds). For a baby, these sounds can be like watching a feature film! Don't forget to cover any light that your white noise machine may produce! 

 

     It may seem like I'm over simplifying but it truly is that simple! Any time you introduce a new toy or product to get your child to sleep, you are creating a sleep crutch. (A sleep crutch is something your baby depends on to fall asleep). Setting up their nursery this way will prevent sleep crutches from forming and help them get their best sleep. It will also help signal it is time to sleep and prevent early wakings. So less stuff in the crib, less light in the room, and less outside sounds, means more sleep!

 

Too Many Books, Not Enough Sleep

     Finding out you are having a baby can be one of the most exciting times in a person's life. You have parties to celebrate, receive gifts, and get to decorate for your new arrival. You have nine months to prepare (maybe less) and at times, it may not seem like enough, while sometimes your due date can't come soon enough. Between doctor visits and painting walls, you are trying to learn as much as you can about your baby. If you started reading from the time you found out your were pregnant until the time you gave birth, you still wouldn't be able to read every parenting book out there. And even if you could, there is still so much contradicting information. How do you even know what is "right" for you and your new family? On top of all of this, all of a sudden every person you come in contact with is a parenting expert (I won't even mention your mother-in-law)!    
     Even with all the information available, every child is unique and so is every family. Some people have children who sleep through the night from day one. Which is great for them but doesn't really help you if your child isn't sleeping well. Some people will tell you it's normal for your child not to nap or sleep through the night.  "My kid just isn't a napper.", or worse, "My kid doesn't need to nap".  Children aren't born knowing how to fall asleep on their own, and while some are able to figure it out on their own, others need a little help.  You're convinced you've done everything "right", but you're exhausted and you gave in just to get your baby to go to sleep! 

 This dad is thinking, "How did I get here?"

This dad is thinking, "How did I get here?"

      This is where I come in. I've talked to all those parenting "experts". I've helped children of all different ages. Most importantly, I know what works and I know how to make it work for you.  Not only am I a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, I've been a full-time nanny for ten years. This has allowed me to work with many different families and gain special experience from each one. When you hire a sleep consultant for your child, you are getting a plan designed specially for your child and family. I am there to help guide you through the steps and support you throughout the process. Every child can be a great sleeper, some just need a little help getting there.