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Blog

Filtering by Category: Sleep

Why Our Baby Sleeps on the Floor

Theresa Heiden

One of my favorite elements of Montessori philosophy is the environment - the purposeful, aesthetic, yet simple space for baby (or child) to be, sleep, and explore. Everything is designed to fit the child's development and size, changing as the child grows. The purpose of the environment is to promote independence, respect, and freedom to move. One traditional (and sometimes controversial!) component of this environment is the floor bed, though it is most definitely not a necessity. 

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I was pretty excited to try the floor bed, but have always kept in mind that it doesn't work for every family, and it might not always work for ours. Dakota began sleeping in her floor bed around 5 months old, when she transitioned from a bassinet in our bedroom to her own room. We started with just the mattress on the floor, which worked for a while until she began to accidentally scoot or roll off in her sleep, sometimes waking her up. So my husband agreed to build her a floor bed frame, giving her access to scoot out, but enough of an edge to prevent accidentally rolling out. With the beautiful frame, she also loves to scoot to the corner of the bed, creating her own little nook. 

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They toughest part of having a floor bed is baby-proofing the room. Even though Dakota isn't crawling out of bed at night (for now), the shelves are low, the outlets are child-safe, and there are no heavy or large pieces of furniture or decor that could topple. We do still have a changing table but it is anchored to the wall, and the drawers are simply canvas, with the lowest one holding cloths that are okay for her to play with. As she begins to climb, we will adjust as needed, likely removing the changing table and nursing chair. We also always have the baby monitor to make sure she's safe!

Although Dakota isn't crawling during sleep hours, she does love to crawl around her room during awake hours. I find it so nice to have a room that I feel safe letting Dakota play in without saying "no". Before and after naps, she can scoot around her room, play, and explore. I try to keep the "quiet" toys (books, stuffed animals, puzzles) in her bedroom to make it a more peaceful space, which is important when she is playing in there pre-sleep. I save the music making for our living/play room downstairs

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As we wind down before sleep, one of my favorite parts of the floor bed is that I can sit with her on the mattress, tuck her in, and kiss her goodnight. She is (usually) happy to be placed down in bed, and babbles and wiggles to sleep. I think starting the floor bed pre-crawling has also helped her be comfortable with it as her place of sleep. My hope is that as she gets older, she continues to enjoy this bed, as she is given the freedom to move and to sleep when she is ready. Only time will tell!

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Sleep, At Last

Theresa Heiden

As I've learned in parenthood so far, every baby has their thing (or things) that are tricky to solve. Dakota's big one has been sleep. While I have always loved how alert, curious, and motivated she is, the flip side is that she has always fought sleep hard. While rocking her or nursing her to sleep worked okay for the first couple of months of her life, and the pacifier soothed her for a couple of weeks after that, Dakota reached a breaking point at 3.5 months where nothing worked. She resisted our assistance but cried when left alone. The books said "put her in her bed when she's drowsy but awake"... sure, except when you put her down she isn't drowsy anymore! Or she would fall asleep with a pacifier or a hand on her chest and then wake up screaming 30 minutes later, unable to fall back asleep. I was spending hours in the day and night by her bedside. I was at my wit's end, having tried seemingly everything and admitting defeat.

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A couple of weeks ago, we had Dakota's 4-month checkup - I was in tears from sleep deprivation and feeling like a failure of a mom - and both our pediatrician and my husband, Chris, urged me to consider the thing I had fought so hard to avoid, at least this early on - sleep training or CIO. Just those phrases made me shudder. Which I suppose is ironic, given that as a Montessori teacher, I had always preached "self soothing" techniques. Now I get just how much easier that is said than done. I never quite realized that hearing your own baby cry makes your entire body tense, your heart ache, and your brain turn to goo. But with reminders of how much Dakota was crying at bedtime with us trying to help, and knowing deep down that self-soothing would indeed help her in the long run, I finally agreed to give sleep training (I like to call it sleep learning) a go. Enter our new bible: The Sleepeasy Solution

This book's philosophy is based on "the least-cry approach", which at least made it more appealing to me. While it is definitely still a CIO method, it allows for check-ins, and caters to various family situations and sleeping arrangements, including room-sharing. The "no-cry sleep solutions" hadn't worked for us despite my best efforts, and this book helped explain why. "All children protest change, and the way they let us know they don't like the change is to cry." For many babies, constantly intervening when they are trying to sleep only frustrates them more and prohibits their ability to figure out how to self-soothe. This was definitely the case with Dakota, my headstrong little girl. I had to let her work off her own steam at the end of the day, and accept her struggle instead of trying to fix it.

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When I finally agreed to give this thing a go, Chris told me the only way it would work is if I left the house after I did the bedtime routine with Dakota. I fought him, but then did a reality check, and realized I would most definitely not be able to hear her cry and not go pick her up. I recognized that I was skeptical she could really put herself to sleep, without a pacifier, swaddle, or any other aids. Being the amazing guy that Chris is, he sent me out for thai food and wine while he did the check-ins, on his BIRTHDAY. In return, I left him with beer and donuts and a crying baby. I think it's clear who won here. But in the end we all won, because Dakota only took 30 minutes to fall asleep on night 1, and really just cried off and on for that 30. I felt SO proud of her. As much as I knew going in to this parenting thing just how smart babies are, I still felt amazed and relieved that my 4-month-old really could self-soothe.

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Since then, we've been sticking with our bedtime routines, and Dakota has been putting herself down for bedtime and naps. She typically takes about 10 minutes to suck on her fingers and look around, and then drifts off to dreamland. Sometimes she fusses but never for more than a few minutes. She no longer wakes up crying at the 30-minute mark, because she is just as she was when she fell asleep for the first time - on her own, no mama arms, no pacifier - and continues on to her 2nd sleep cycle. Our lives have improved drastically - Chris and I get to spend time together in the evening (like watch the Great British Baking Show...) and Dakota is much happier overall! I like to get outside and meet up with friends most days, so we've been doing some naps at home and some out and about. Since starting our sleep learning, it has only made her fall asleep more quickly in the carseat and carrier, without all the bouncing and singing I had been doing before!

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This past week, Dakota and I traveled to California to visit my sister and nephews, and I was worried she wouldn't be able to put herself to sleep in a new environment. But with the same bedtime song, white noise, and sleep sack, she had no problem at all! I was so impressed. It made for a much more enjoyable trip with her cousins! That being said, as all things in parenthood, it is a gradual process, and this coming week I am going to start a little night weaning to hopefully cut down on some of our night feedings. But our sleep learning already feels like a victory, and most importantly, I have more confidence in her and she has more confidence in herself. Next stop: the transition to her floor bed! To be continued...

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The Elusive Sleep

Theresa Heiden

Maria Montessori didn't provide any clear cut rules on sleep, but the most common method among Montessori parents seems to be independent sleep via the floor bed. The idea (which I completely agree with if it works) is that the floor bed promotes positive sleeping experience and self-soothing early on. Unlike cribs, floor beds allow the infant or toddler to go to sleep when they are ready. (This also requires fully baby-proofing the bedroom.) But if the child isn’t initially tired or they wake up in the night, they won’t necessarily cry because they are in trapped in their crib. Instead, they can look around and even explore a bit and put themselves to sleep when ready. Importantly, the child's bedroom is kept simple and separate from their main “play/movement” space, so they quickly learn their room is a place of rest. With time and consistency, infants learn how to self-soothe on their own.

Janet Lansbury of RIE parenting emphasizes self soothing too: “Supporting a baby to self-soothe can mean listening to her complaints for a minute or two while she finds her thumb, rather than immediately giving her a pacifier. It can be about remembering to offer two teethers and allowing the baby to choose one and grasp it herself rather than automatically placing something in her mouth. It might mean allowing our baby to cry in our arms to release her feelings at bedtime instead of rocking, patting, or jiggling her, etc., as explained in “Helping Young Children Sleep” from Hand-in-Hand parenting. As I say so often, “Observe and wait.” Sometimes you may even find out that what you believed the infant wanted was only your assumption. Being sensitive to the possibility of self-soothing is the beginning of believing in your baby.”

Those are my #goals. But in these first 6 weeks of having a new baby, I feel more like I'm in a sort of sleep survival mode. The big question is always what will help little Dakota to sleep on her own so I can sleep too? I can see that reaching the point of independent sleep is definitely a slow and gradual process, and I have to remind myself that I can get there eventually. And that sometimes (or all the time in the beginning) you just have to do what you can to get sleep to prevent becoming a momzie/zombie. No judgment allowed!

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Our plan starting out was a simple bassinet in our bedroom where baby would sleep unswaddled at night, and maybe even in the day! Ha. After 1 week, we admitted defeat with the flat surface of the bassinet and crazy baby moro reflex. The only way our baby would sleep more than an hour was in a carrier or on one of our bodies. I learned (thanks pinterest) that booby-trapped has a new meaning: when your baby has fallen asleep on the boob and you're too scared to move them for fear they will wake up. ;) My husband rushed out to Target to get a rock-n-play and a swaddle pod. For the first time since Dakota came home, she slept 2-3 hours at one time. No matter the aids to sleep, I considered this a win.

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It has by no means been easy since then. She still only sleeps max 3 hours at a time. I still spend hours helping Dakota sleep in her little bed. The number of times I've sung Baby Beluga and All the Pretty Little Horses while bouncing on my pregnancy ball is staggering. My back hurts from leaning over her with my hand on her chest until I think she's in a deep sleep in her bed (I'm often wrong). I can never quite figure out the timing of nursing before sleep. The number of different swaddles and sleep sacks I've purchased is embarrassing. And then sometimes just when she's gone down, my dog barks and we start over.

Dakota is still changing patterns every day, so I just remain flexible with our sleep. During the day I often "wear" Dakota so I can actually be a bit productive (and eat with 2 hands!), but we are also working on her taking naps on her own. We've even weaned off the rock in the rock-n-play, and occasionally sleep without arms swaddled. Tiny victories! I try my best to help her nod completely off to sleep in her bed, but I am not above nursing to sleep. And I am okay with the fact that a full-body swaddle is the only route to a few hours of sleep. Baby steps I remind myself. She's only 6 weeks. So for now, for my own sanity and mothering abilities, Dakota often calls the shots at bedtime. Montessori said, "follow the child" and I can at least say I'm doing that. :)

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