How do you get your babies to sleep, what are some ways to guide your baby’s sleep in whatever method works best for your family.
Today’s guest is Dr. Sarah Mitchell who is a chiropractor by training who found her passion empowering parents to teach their little ones to sleep and parent confidently day and night as a sleep consultant. She’s a sought after consultant in silicon valley where she works with tech execs, celebrities and parents from all walks of life. She’s the author of the Amazon Best selling book ‘The Helping Babies Sleep Method; The Art and Science of Teaching Your Baby to Sleep” and a proud member of the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine. She frequently speaks to corporations and spoke to Google parents world wide about baby sleep during the pandemic. Since 2013 she’s helped thousands of parents be loving, attached and well-rested.
- My sleep quiz www.helpingbabiessleep.com/sleep-quiz
- My special link to her course: https://www.pullingcurls.com/go/baby-sleep/
Big thanks to our sponsor Family Routines getting into a daily routine with chores, activities and sleep can help your family run more smoothly!
Producer: Drew Erickson
Check out my other parenting podcasts:
[00:00:00.190] – Hilary Erickson
Hey, guys. Welcome back to the Pulling Curls Podcast. Today on Episode 190, we’re talking about sleeping and getting those babies to sleep. Let’s untangle it.
[00:00:18.280] – Hilary Erickson
Hi, I’m Hilary Erickson, the curly head behind the Pulling Curls Podcast: Pregnancy and Parenting Untangled. There’s no right answer for every family, but on this show, we hope to give you some ideas to make life simpler at your house. Life’s tangled just like my hair.
[00:00:39.670] – Hilary Erickson
Okay, this episode is not just about babies, though. This episode is going to be about getting your toddler to sleep, too, because I had an unhealthy 18 months sleep regression that I regret. So I wanted to give you guys some tips for that, too. I’m excited to introduce you to today’s guest. She is the author of The Helping Babies to Sleep Method, the Art and Science of Teaching Your Baby to sleep. She was formerly a chiropractor, and I love how she says since 2013, she’s helped thousands of parents be loving, attached, and well rested. I want to introduce today’s guest, Dr. Sarah Mitchell.
[00:01:17.440] – Hilary Erickson
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[00:01:55.470] – Hilary Erickson
Hey, Sarah. Welcome to the Pulling Curls Podcast.
[00:01:58.030] – Sarah Mitchell
Hey, Hilary. So excited to be here today and talk about baby and toddler sleep with you.
[00:02:02.800] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, I have to tell you. So I get a lot of sleep people emailing me wanting to talk about it. And I’m always like, I’m really hesitant because honestly, I had to go to back to work at six weeks as a nurse, so I couldn’t be up all night with a baby because my kids are super old.
[00:02:20.010] – Hilary Erickson
I couldn’t be up with a baby all night. I needed to get at least some rest, and my kids are super old. So we did do some baby wives, and so many people are anti everything that I’m just like, there has to be a solution for everybody. But I looked at you, Sarah, and you look very like, yes, there’s a solution for how you want to do it.
[00:02:41.340] – Sarah Mitchell
It’s all about respect. I think people have a lot of different thresholds. each other’s life, there’s you who had to go back to work so early, and then there’s someone else that has a whole year off and wants to be there and doesn’t mind waking up four or five times a night.
[00:02:54.770] – Sarah Mitchell
We all have different thresholds. I think there’s more than one way to raise your child. You just have to figure out what works for you. And sometimes that takes a little while.
[00:03:02.740] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah. And I’ll admit that babies crying, that doesn’t bother me because I’ve heard there’s been a lot of baby crying in Hilary’s lifetime that aren’t even my own. So I know a lot of people are super affected by it. So I really like the approach that there’s a way to make it work for you.
[00:03:20.110] – Hilary Erickson
So let’s give some tips for helping baby sleep. And then stay tuned for moms of olders because we all know that it’s not just babies. Do you have any tips for 46 year olds who have a hard time sleeping?
[00:03:31.080] – Sarah Mitchell
That’s a whole other episode.
[00:03:36.680] – Hilary Erickson
All right, let’s start with babies.
[00:03:38.810] – Sarah Mitchell
Okay, let’s start with babies. And whenever you’re hearing baby, I want you to be a critical thinker as a listener, what age are we talking about here? Because I think there’s a huge difference between that two month old and that seven month old.
[00:03:49.890] – Sarah Mitchell
So when I talk about babies, I tend to talk about newborns being less than three months and then babies four to 24 months age. So the first thing you need to know in the newborn stage is that it’s your job to decide when nap and bedtime need to happen. When I was going through this, I was like, I want to be really baby led. I want to follow the cues.
[00:04:10.350] – Sarah Mitchell
The truth is, sometimes that can actually be really hard to read those tired signs. Kids less than about three months, most of them need to be back asleep within about an hour and a half. It’s not a very long window. They really can only comfortably stay awake about an hour and a half. And it’s your job to initiate sleeping time. That’s my first step.
[00:04:28.910] – Hilary Erickson
Oh, I like that. Because a lot of parents, patients in the hospital be like, do you think she looks sleepy? And I’m like, I don’t know. Does he look sleepy to you?
[00:04:36.740] – Sarah Mitchell
Yeah. So much of great parenting is all about your executive functioning, anticipating needs, planning ahead. And the same is actually really true for baby sleep, which doesn’t make it sound very natural or intuitive.
[00:04:49.380] – Sarah Mitchell
But that’s the other thing is we think… My tip number two would be, we think sleep should be this beautiful, natural instinctual thing, but it’s actually a learned skill and habit.
[00:04:59.990] – Hilary Erickson
And it is, which I think a lot of people…
[00:05:03.180] – Sarah Mitchell
[00:05:03.380] – Hilary Erickson
I don’t know. I should also put in here that I am a huge scheduler. I love my schedule here at home, so that type of thing works for me. But I love the idea that you need to put baby down at a certain point because they do get overtired and I’ve always seen, especially when you’re at family events or whatever, that baby that’s just overtired and you just feel bad for everyone involved.
[00:05:23.060] – Sarah Mitchell
Yeah. And they just don’t really know because no one told them. No one told them an hour and a half. That’s your magic number. Second tip would be that it’s actually a learned habit. So if you are somebody like Hilary that has to get back to work really quickly, the best thing that you can be doing is what I call gentle newborn sleep shaping.
[00:05:38.040] – Sarah Mitchell
It’s in those first 4 to 10 weeks, we have this very short window where we can actually imprint what sleep looks like, and we want to be starting to put kids down, calm but awake. That’s what we talk about in the book, calm but awake. Drowsy but awake is great, but what I have found happens over time is that it starts to wear off and basically they’re dead asleep before you put them down. Is there anything wrong with that? No.
[00:05:59.690] – Sarah Mitchell
It’s just that it’s long term you want to be working on establishing habits right away, being an optimizer in the newborn stage, then you’re going to put them down, calm but awake and help them fall asleep in the space that they’re going to be sleeping. So they start to associate sleep with the bassinet rather than being in your arms because then they start to wake up to the world around four months, they’re like, We’re rejecting being transferred, basically.
[00:06:19.770] – Hilary Erickson
I would rather fall asleep in somebody’s arms. Although my husband would probably disagree because I’m like, Your side of the bed, my side of it.
[00:06:28.450] – Sarah Mitchell
That’s the thing. It is this beautiful thing to have that experience. It doesn’t mean that you can’t hold them to sleep sometimes. It’s just that you want to be able to start practicing your long term goal early. Makes sense?
[00:06:41.940] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, it totally makes sense to me. But then I’m that mom who did that. So I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense to a lot of people. Do you have any tips? Well, the other thing is it’s very confusing to know what drowsy looks like other than I’m pretty much asleep, right?
[00:06:57.890] – Sarah Mitchell
Exactly. My last tip would be, if you’re really wanting to work on this, is disassociate feeding from sleeping.
[00:07:05.030] – Hilary Erickson
[00:07:05.300] – Sarah Mitchell
I’m sure you did that, right?
[00:07:07.040] – Hilary Erickson
Well, I mean, it was all a pattern. It was because baby wise back in the early 2000s, late 90s, was feed, wake, sleep, right?
[00:07:16.610] – Sarah Mitchell
Right. And there’s something else called the easy routine by Tracy Hogg. You eat, then you have activity and then you go to sleep.
[00:07:23.580] – Sarah Mitchell
Where I see people go wrong with that is they do that, then they still nurse them or feed them to sleep. And you end up with what I’ve termed in the book, the snacking cycle. It’s these kids that eat every couple of hours all through the night and all through the day because they never consolidate their feeding.
[00:07:38.370] – Sarah Mitchell
And that’s the third pillar of the Helping Baby Sleep method is you want to be an intentional feeder. So if I’m going to bring out the bottle of the boob, you’re going to come and have a full feed. So that helps me then be a better parenting detective when you’re fussy. Okay, well, I know it’s not food because you have full feed just like an hour ago.
[00:07:54.060] – Sarah Mitchell
So this is either fatigue, you have to burp, you’re bored, or you’re gassy. And I can address one of those without having to repeat the feeding and then ultimately training them that feeding is falling asleep. That’s what I did. I just kept nursing him to sleep. He weighed 20 pounds by the time he was four months because I just kept nursing him to sleep over and over and over again. So it’s my mission to help people avoid that if they want to.
[00:08:14.370] – Hilary Erickson
I will also say that I don’t get any breast milk, so I bottle fed. So I do think that there is a… You’re always like, Well, he already had six ounces. He’s fine food wise, whereas breastfeeding, you’re like, Am I not making enough milk? All those different things. So there are just so many questions.
[00:08:31.010] – Sarah Mitchell
Yes, exactly. And that’s why anticipating needs in advance and being on a bit of a schedule. I call it a daily flow because it’s going to change every day. It’s not a strict schedule. But that really helps you rule out those variables that will give you self doubt. And that feels so much better as a parent.
[00:08:46.980] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah. Instead, you can think, is it an ear infection? Is it teething?
[00:08:52.100] – Sarah Mitchell
[00:08:53.930] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah. Okay. Those are great tips for babies. And I think that’s something people… When do you think people… Because I just think babies are a mess till they’re about two weeks old. They just have like, no, there’s nothing to… They’re goo.
[00:09:04.800] – Sarah Mitchell
Yeah, agreed. My thing is that first month, those first four weeks, you’re working on feeding. You’re working on that. You’re getting that established. You’re getting your baby well fed.
[00:09:12.830] – Sarah Mitchell
And then around four weeks, then we start to work on the implementation of the methodology of being an intentional feeder, anticipating out the needs, working on putting them down, calm but awake and helping them fall asleep in the place that they’re going to be sleeping.
[00:09:26.030] – Hilary Erickson
Okay, I love that. So before then, you’re just feeding on demand, basically, like the lactation consultant is going to tell you to do.
[00:09:32.140] – Sarah Mitchell
Yeah. And you have a short window of two for this gentle newborn sleep shaping, because what I found is that by 12 weeks, preferences are already established. And then to work on independent sleep, so that’s what people think of when they think of sleep training, that happens four months or later.
[00:09:47.630] – Sarah Mitchell
And what we’re waiting for is for that startle reflex to diminish for them to be having better hand control, and that they’ve hit the four month sleep regression, which can happen around three and a half months or later. And then that’s when they start waking up more.
[00:09:59.870] – Sarah Mitchell
I often hear from parents, they’re like, We were getting a six hours stretch in the third month and everything was going great and now they’re waking up every two hours. Yeah, it’s the four month sleep regression. Now, if you’ve been working on putting them down awake in those earlier stages, you wouldn’t be feeling it the same way. It won’t last as long as if you’re feeding to sleep or rock into sleep or reinserting that pacifier.
[00:10:17.840] – Sarah Mitchell
But after four months is when we’re working on independent sleep. So we’re putting them down awake and encouraging them to self soothe. And that’s where the crying comes in. That’s where the crying comes in. I’m now changing the way… This is what I did with my son.
[00:10:29.530] – Sarah Mitchell
I nursed him to sleep. I taught him the boo boo is a soother. He woke up every couple hours. I’m like, Oh, my God. We can’t go on like this. I just can’t do this. I’m so tired. I’m like, Okay, I need to, one, work on my timing, two, understand this is a learned habit that he’s accustomed to now.
[00:10:44.350] – Sarah Mitchell
And then I’m going to have to put him down awake and manage how I’m going to respond to his cries of frustration that I’m changing the way sleep looks for him and that he’s tired while I’m trying to do this. And that’s what people think of. And the amount of tears is going to be related to three things.
[00:10:58.090] – Sarah Mitchell
One, your ability to nail the timing. So putting kids down too early or too late will make it harder for him. The second one is your ability to be consistent. Trying it once, trying to change habits that have been around for six months, your first attempt, if you give up after 10 minutes and you try again the next day, anticipate he’s going to cry for 10 minutes because you’re just training him that. So being able to be consistent and message what sleep looks like the same every time. And then the third thing is temperament. Some kids are more flexible to change than others.
[00:11:24.430] – Hilary Erickson
And some kids just love sleep more than others.
[00:11:26.880] – Sarah Mitchell
[00:11:27.190] – Hilary Erickson
Middle one loves sleep, and he’s home from college. We’re at 11 AM, he’s still asleep.
[00:11:32.940] – Sarah Mitchell
Yeah, it’s true. And there’s something, too, about active minds. Some kids just have busier minds than others, and it takes them longer to slow down. And we see this into the toddler years, especially.
[00:11:43.280] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, and the other thing, my oldest, he just liked to cry for a minute before bed, always. He always did. And now when he comes home, he wants to argue with me before bed. So it’s just the same. It’s funny how you see those sleep patterns.
[00:11:57.900] – Sarah Mitchell
Oh, my God. Yeah. And so my second… So I did the whole sleep training thing with my son at four months. And then my second, I started this gentle newborn stuff from the get go. And I never had to do the crying it out approach because I’ve been working on it for so long.
[00:12:10.390] – Sarah Mitchell
But she would still cry when we walked into that nursery every night. And it’s her way of saying, I would just so much rather be with you. I don’t want to leave you. I’m like, I hear you. I respect that. But I’m in charge of your health and wellbeing. And five minutes of tears for 10 and a half hours of sleep that’s coming up. I can deal with that.
[00:12:27.290] – Hilary Erickson
And a happy baby the rest of the day because when they sleep really well, you can tell those babies.
[00:12:33.100] – Sarah Mitchell
And you’re actually that much more in tune with their needs when they’re sleeping well in the night. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had that are like, I can’t believe how much less fussy they are in the day. I totally know what their needs are so much more easily now that they’re sleeping well.
[00:12:46.390] – Hilary Erickson
And I think you can tell when it’s, Is this an ear infection? Because this isn’t normal, right? This is really unusual.
[00:12:52.050] – Sarah Mitchell
[00:12:54.120] – Hilary Erickson
So many good tips. I love this. Okay, so what if you have a toddler?
[00:12:59.230] – Sarah Mitchell
Yeah. So what age do we talk with toddler?
[00:13:03.430] – Hilary Erickson
I had an 18 month sleep regression that almost made me suicidal. And that’s.
[00:13:09.240] – Sarah Mitchell
Related to Erickson stages of psycho emotional development, right? They are realizing they’re starting to have an opinion on the world. They want to test that out. They want autonomy, but they still want to know that you’re still there. So it’s all this push, pull.
[00:13:20.440] – Sarah Mitchell
They don’t really even know what they want half the time. My first piece of advice is keep your child in a crib as long as you can. And ideally, two and a half years is the magic number that seems to work well. Before that, they are like little jack in the boxes. They don’t have any concept of boundaries and they are in and out of bed. So that’s the first tip. Keep them in the crib as long as you can.
[00:13:38.710] – Hilary Erickson
I love the crib. I wish I could have all my kids. Well, I guess not. Probably not at 22.
[00:13:44.860] – Sarah Mitchell
The second tip would be you will have a regression. So anytime you hear regression, I want you to think growth and distraction. My child is growing physically by getting a tooth or molars, or they’re growing neurologically by understanding concepts, and that is going to distract them from falling asleep. It doesn’t mean that they can’t sleep. It means it might be harder or it might take a little longer.
[00:14:08.210] – Sarah Mitchell
So the 18 month sleep regression, it’s like I’m being put in the crib, but now I’m 18 months and I have opinions and I don’t want to be separated. I’m going to let them know that I don’t like this and they’re going to cry. Then it’s about figuring out how do I fill up their bucket as part of the bedtime routine, giving them controlled choices to feel empowered and ease the separation. That’s what the purpose of the bedtime routine is. It’s to ease the time, the separation that you’re going to be away from them.
[00:14:31.140] – Sarah Mitchell
So giving them little wins as far as that. And then there’s different ways you could do it. You could say, I can stay here and sit with you for five or 10 minutes, or you could do some controlled check ins. But it’s anticipating, though, giving them enough time to be with you before you have to leave.
[00:14:47.350] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah. Mine was middle of the night wake up, would just go, Mama, mama. And we had all three kids in one bedroom because we lived in Santa Clara. I thought my oldest was going to kill her. So finally I was just like, Okay, why don’t you tell her how you’re feeling?
[00:15:00.190] – Hilary Erickson
She understands. And he was like, Paige, it’s really hard for me. Sorry, Paige, no guff on you. It’s really hard for me to concentrate at school. I’m really frustrated that I can’t sleep. And she was like, Okay. And she never woke up again.
[00:15:14.120] – Sarah Mitchell
Interesting. So interesting.
[00:15:17.070] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah. So sleep. It’s so rough. Sleep.
[00:15:21.020] – Sarah Mitchell
Now, the other side of that, right, would be like, what if that hadn’t happened? What would you have done? What people often end up doing is they end up giving the milk or bringing them into bed with them or rocking them back to sleep because they can’t handle the frustration that child’s going through. I think there’s ways to attend to them without undoing all of your boundaries. Does that make sense?
[00:15:42.140] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah, that’s a good point. I think it’s hard because you’re sleep deprived. When she would do it at two in the morning, I was just like, be quiet, just be quiet.
[00:15:50.350] – Sarah Mitchell
With a lot of the two to four year olds that I have coming to me or even 18 months and older, when we have these long night wakens, we look at how they fall asleep at bedtime. Because if you’re getting a bottle of milk or you’re getting held to be relaxed or having someone lie with you, you have that association with sleep.
[00:16:05.880] – Sarah Mitchell
Then when you wake up in the night, which all humans do, but now you’re two and you’re wondering if maybe they will come if I cry out, I want them, then they’ll expect that same triage of the situation as what they had at bedtime. A lot of people think, and this is true for a lot of ages, they think they have a night waking problem, but they really have a falling asleep at bedtime problem.
[00:16:23.930] – Sarah Mitchell
You want to start there because that’s when the drive to sleep is the greatest and that’s when it’s the easiest to learn. When you understand this is a learned habit, you want to make sure you can set your child up for the easiest success. So starting at bedtime and then following through at night with the same consistent approach to how you’re responding.
[00:16:39.740] – Hilary Erickson
And it was separation in general, like going to church. She went to the sitter, okay, because she’d been used to her since she was born. But the church nursery, she was a basket case for. So it was a lot of just dealing with the separation. She’s a fully functioning human being now for anyone else that’s going through it now. Great sleeper.
[00:16:57.000] – Sarah Mitchell
Right. But it is the season. Yeah, it is the season that they go through.
[00:17:00.650] – Hilary Erickson
Yeah. All right, thanks so much for coming on, Sarah. Where else can people find you?
[00:17:03.910] – Sarah Mitchell
Helpingbabysleep.Com. And you can also check us out on Instagram and our best selling book on Amazon, The Helping Baby Sleep Method, the art and science of teaching your baby to sleep. It’s for babies from birth until 24 months.
[00:17:15.340] – Hilary Erickson
Awesome. I will put that link in the show notes too, if you want to find it at Pulling Curls. Thanks so much, Sarah.
[00:17:19.790] – Hilary Erickson
Okay, guys, I hope you enjoyed that episode. I think understanding baby sleep, plus mitigating it with your own needs is so important. In fact, it’s so important that I actually invited her to do a bonus episode in the online prenatal class for couples. So join the Bump to Bassinet upgrade, and you will get a video all about baby sleep. She’s going to talk about those first few months home. It’s super helpful.
[00:17:40.900] – Hilary Erickson
And then you can decide if you want to add her courses. But if you are in the midst of all of the newborn fun, I actually have a special link that she gave me to her course. She doesn’t usually offer her course, but you can get her course for newborn to, I think it’s like two or three months, and you can get that sleep on schedule. And then she also has upgrades if you want to add further sleep issues as well. I will put the link in the show notes.
[00:18:04.740] – Hilary Erickson
Don’t miss next week’s because we’re tackling another ugly issue. It is tearing at delivery. And then the week after that, I’m going to talk about the things that are hard about organizing for me. So stay tuned.
[00:18:15.880] – Hilary Erickson
Thanks so much for joining us on today’s episode. The Pulling Curls Podcast grows when you share us on social media or leave a review. If you do, please tag us so that we can share and send you a virtual hug, which, frankly, is my favorite hugging. Until next time, we hope you have a tangle free day.