3 Ways New Parents Can Slay the Sleep Monster


I believe the most important role of a parents is to keep their child healthy and safe. We are their Health and Safety Czars!! The two best ways to ensure good health for your child is to provide healthy nutrition and adequate sleep. So what does that look like for a baby? Clearly, ensure that breastfeeding is going well. With Obama care, you ought to get a free lactation consultant visit, so have her come over and check on you!

Okay, nutrition covered! How about sleep? It’s probably the single most frequent complaint of parents. We just don’t know how to do this. Here is what I recommend trying.

1.Forty Days and Forty Nights in Bed.
Up to 6 weeks or 40 days, baby is home on the floor bed with parents joining baby there for nursing and bonding.  These 40 days together with Mom and baby together in bed is a common, global practice. I like for baby to be in his own room on a floor bed because he is getting acclimated and accustomed to where he is going to be sleeping for years.

heather ellis floor bed

Let him learn the smells and sounds of his own room. Don’t make him get used to your adult room which has very specific sounds and smells (breast milk for one) and then have to put energy into adjusting to a whole new environment.

We have an expression in Montessori, “Open The Door Slowly” meaning a baby starts with a protected relationship with Mom, then Dad and other siblings enter, then extended family, then neighborhood, community, etc. We start small, so as not to over stimulate and we add on from there. As he grows, mom can begin to leave when he’s sleeping. After 40 days or so, Mom can begin to move out to her own bed when baby is asleep. And baby can BEGIN to move toward a routine where he is asleep for at least two hours and awake for no more than two hours. (I’m a big fan of Dr. Weissbluth’s book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child)

2. Associations, Not Props...
If you write down your baby’s eat and sleep times you will begin to see a pattern. Using that pattern of times, you’re going to move slowly toward a routine and 2 hour awake times. Also, if you see that your baby is getting sleepy (having learned the Dunstan baby language of cries) you can begin a routine of changing into a sleep blanket, closing the curtains, turning on the humidifier or diffuser so that baby can associate certain cues with sleep. Sleep your baby on her tummy as she oxygenates better. If you wear a sleep sack and have a firm mattress, your baby will not suffocate.


Make sure your sleep cues are those you can live with for the long term as What We Give Them, They Come to Expect, and Then They Need so be sure they’re not associating sleep with nursing, rocking, bouncing, sucking, etc.

3. Routines, Not Schedules
So again, while writing down sleep and eat events, we begin to move slowly moving toward a routine. Children like to know what to expect. We give them a routine, an order of events, rather than a schedule. Though we will eventually have a GOAL of awake no more than 2 hours, and naps of at least 2 hours, with 12 hours of sleep at night, we start with a predictable order. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

As part of your routine, remember this acronym: STEP which stands for  Sleep, Toilet, Eat, Play. Repeat. So the day begins to take on a pattern and may move toward looking like the table below. At 5pm you may want to “cluster feed” whereby you feed at five and again before bed at 7 to get ready for a night sleep. Remember this is something you are moving toward slowly. I highly recommend the book 12 Hours by 12 Weeks for more info. Your day might begin to look like this:

7am Awake Toilet, Eat, Play
9am Sleep
11am Awake, Toilet, Eat, Play
1pm Sleep
3pm Awake, Toilet, Eat, Play
5pm Eat, Play, Bath & Massage
7pm Eat, Sleep
*(11pm Dream Feed by Dad while Mom Pumps)
7am Awake

*This is the recommendation of Tracy Hogg in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer but Suzy Giordano in 12 Hours by 12 Weeks suggests something different – weaning off last nighttime sleep first and then the middle and then the first.

 If you think you would like to hire a sleep consultant, I recommend Pam Nease at http://pamneasesleep.com. These are the books from which I take all of my recommendations (in no particular order). You might want to read the reviews on Amazon and see if any one resonates for you. I do think the first one is the one that provided me, personally, with the most helpful and scientific information.

  1. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth
  2. 12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old by Suzy Giordano
  3. Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg
  4. Sleeping Through the Night by Jodi Mindell
  5. On Becoming BabyWise by Gary Ezzo

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10 Beliefs That May Change Your Parenting

Added together, I have spent more than two straight years in Montessori training (0-12 plus Catechesis of the Good Shepherd). I am trained to be a Bradley Childbirth instructed and I completed the RIE Foudations Course in Los Angeles. I studied Infant Development at the Erickson Institute in Chicago. I am trained in Infant CPR, Infant Heimlich, and First Aid.

Because of and in spite of this education, my work with parents cannot be separated from my beliefs about children and sometimes I have difficulty knowing where something I “believe’ came from!

I did some very tangible things in raising my children which made sense to me and worked well for our family. We did a 40 day lie-in where mom stays strictly home with baby; breastfeeding; whole, organic homemade foods; daily fresh air and exercise; cloth diapers; predictable routines, uninterrupted and self directed free play.

Yet despite these philosophies we researched and adopted, underneath was a core set of beliefs and attitudes about and toward children.

Here are are some things I know ring true for me.

  1. I hold a respectful, even reverent, attitude toward babies and children because I believe they are competent, capable and deserving of our highest regard. We should not enter their personal space without asking permission and showing a respectful attitude.
  2. Children benefit from freedom of movement from the beginning in every sense of the term. They are well served by being out of containers and on the floor. There is a school of thought that children should not be put into positions they can’t get in themselves. This includes propping them up to sit, even in car seats. Through free movement, brain development is strengthened. When a child learns to move and tone his body he is better able to gain control and mastery over his body and interact with his environment in ways that are purposeful and purposeful movement is good for the brain.
  3. Children have everything they need and sometimes we can best serve them by staying out of their way. They are directed toward that which they are ready to learn and by “teaching” we take away the opportunity for them to self discover. Our biggest job, our most important role is as an observer. They will tell us when they need us to hug them, feed them, teach them. And we can honor them by learning their language. Otherwise, there is so little we need to guide them toward. They will show us and we can follow while scaffolding (supporting enough to keep them safe).
  4. What we give to children they come to expect and then they need. This includes sleeping on a warm body, television and other screens, 100% attention 100% of the time, a view from a propped up position and much more.
  5. I advocate for parents being 100% there 50% of the time as opposed to the more typical 50% there 100% of the time. This means all attention is on the child during caring times (feeding, changing, bathing) and other than that, the child has “me” time and lets us know when he needs relationship with us.
  6. Some additional things I do in my work with children: allow, observe, narrate (give words to emotions), follow, read to, and sing.
  7. Children benefit from clear expectations. Try not to say no but mean it when you do.
  8. I respect and honor parents’ personal choices for their own family’s lifestyle. I know for a fact that great children come out of all kinds of parenting philosophies!
  9. Toddlers are looking for more understanding and independence. They are hardwired to understand our world and how it works and how they fit in. They want to feel empowered in this world and if they don’t feel this they may begin to act out. I will help you empower your child thus increasing impulse control, cooperation and self esteem.
  10. Sleep is important! There are two important books I recommend for new parents and reading them while pregnant is ideal!

Twelve Hours by Twelve Weeks

Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child

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How to “Open the Door Slowly”

We have a saying in 0-3 Montessori called “open the door slowly.” This refers to allowing a child to slowly acclimate according to his developing sensory system. First a child develops a nursing relationship with his mother first (which Dad protects). Then the baby includes Dad in his knowledge of his family dynamic and this may be the extent of his relationships for a 6 week lying-in period. At the same time he is acclimating to the room, its noises and temperatures and smells, where he will be sleeping.  Then he begins to meet neighbors and extended family. And he ventures out of his room into the rest of his house. Soon he goes out into his community and begins to see how things are done there. He is slowly being introduced to things at a rate which his sensitive system can take in and process new information. For babies for whom this truly happens slowly and thoughtfully, it can be overwhelming to go somewhere with too much noise or light.

When I see a baby who is truly raised in an “open the door slowly” way, it is astounding the difference in their thoughtfulness and capacity to practice self control and self discipline. Why is that?

Yet babies who come into a world where they are being taken everywhere without regard to their developing sense systems it can be very jarring. Do you know what happens after a baby is circumcised? I know this because I worked in a newborn nursery and saw many of them. They cry a cry unlike any you’ve ever heard (it almost disappears, it becomes so shrill) and then they go to sleep. Often when we take newborns out, they go to sleep. What about a new baby attached to a body which is always moving, and taken everywhere that adult goes? He may learn to shut down in the face of all that stimulation. And then he will desensitize to it.

In my experience, these are the children who are not “in their bodies.” This is my own expression for children who “bang” materials loudly or thrown them. Those whose bodies are always moving and tripping and upsetting furniture. Those whose depth perception is so off they start bracing themselves for an encounter with a piece of furniture 4 feet away. They seem not to know where their bodies are in space.

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has a book called Infants and Mothers “where he describes three different infants and their temperaments so clearly that no matter what kind of a baby you have, you will find your child somewhere in the book. For a first time mother in the newborn stage, when variations of sleeping, eating, and temperaments are so different, it is reassuring to know that the one in your crib is as healthy and normal as the rest.”

So yes, babies have different temperaments and some are more sensitive than others but for all of them, we can be sensitive to the fact that they have come from a quiet, dark place into a bright noise filled world and they need to grow accustomed to this at their own pace. They are benefit from “opening the door slowly.”

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10 Rules in our House

I think this is the key to good parenting. I once that my family doctor wrote on my child’s chart “mother has unrealistic expectations of what toddlers can do.” The way I spoke to my children differed from what his own wife, who is a large attachment parenting advocate, practiced. I think children come in hard wired to learn how we do things and what is expected of them.  They want to acculturate and become part of the family, the community, the civilization. The one driving questions is “How do I fit in?”

Children appreciate when we are honest communicators. When we are consistent and we don’t waffle, our expectations are clear. Our expectations become internalized by our children and they don’t have to be tested. Here are things children might come to “expect.”

A child should know what they are allowed to do and what they are not. I encourage parents to write these things down throughout the varying stages your children go to so that both parents are clear; the language is consistent; you can point to the writing and the children eventually point to it themselves. When they are babies, you might be writing for other adults but as they grow older, you will be surprised how much they like to talk about the “rules in our house.” Here are some of the rules we had at various ages and stages.

  1.  We help children “do it myself.” (For instance, when we diaper it is a mutual task. We don’t distract him with mobiles and toys. We have this wonderful nurturing time together. We cooperate. We co-determine how this will go. But he does not expect to “be dressed.”)
  2. We practice safe behavior to avoid accidents. “These cabinets are okay for you to play in (pans and Tupperware) but these are not (glassware). “Please don’t touch Daddy’s guitar.”
  3. Adults model, rather than require, polite and respectful behavior. “Would you like some broccoli? Yes please? No thank you?”
  4. We understand what behavior is expected from us. “In church we sit quietly and listen to the people talking.” “In restaurants we sit quietly and eat.”
  5. We don’t take things from people’s hands. When a person is touching an item, they are the temporary “owner” of that item.
  6. We eat at tables. (Eating should be done on the lap until a child is sitting freely on his own. Then it should be at a low table he can get to himself. He can’t carry food away. When he plays, he’s finished. We offer a very little food and he can ask for more until he determines he’s finished.)
  7. We clean up our messes.
  8. We are respectful of the items in our house. We don’t “bang” materials as they may get chipped or broken.
  9. We use inside voices and save screaming for outside.
  10. We are respectful of other people. We don’t hit. We don’t gloat. Our rights end at the other guy’s nose. When a child is exerting his will we are firm on our limits but also present and loving.
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When We Want Nothing, We Get Everything

Babies and children need a safe space. This means a “no-free zone” where they come to predict what will be there and what they will do. Security, not novelty, is what they really need. They also need cognitively challenging (appropriate materials) and emotionally nurtured (caring relationship.) That is it.

So we don’t intervene when children are concentrating as it disrupts them and the flow doesn’t happen. Uninterrupted play can last while the child has energy and focus and doesn’t show us that he needs relationship. He will let you know if he wants to interact! If he is not doing anything, isn’t that okay? Don’t we sometimes do nothing? Don’t project boredom. He is never bored but he is sometimes finished.

Does this mean we leave our children alone? We can when they are in their “safe space.” But we can also be with them, observing. This is wants nothing time. It’s a way we can be with our babies without interrupting them. This allows their inner director to be alive, showing them what they need. They can’t be in relationship with us, listening to us, looking at us, and in touch with this inner director at the same time. They are two different modes. That’s why we separate them. Our caring time, when we are feeding, bathing, changing is our interactive time and then baby gets “me” time.

Thomas Mann said “Solitude is an important expression of the original in all of us.”

For most of our history, babies had “alone time.” During the 1950s and 1960s children had playpens and they were left there for hours! They played; they fell asleep; they awoke and played some more. Now it sounds like child abuse or at best benign neglect to leave a child in a play-jail. We prefer to leave them confined in containers while we tote them from room to room with us while we do the things parents need to do (clean, cook, shower).

When left on their own, babies change position every minute. The bring in information through their skin and lying down lets the most skin interact with a surface. They develop elasticity and balance. They self regulate as they move from one activity to another. They need this time.

And parents need time too. I’m always surprised when I hear parents say they haven’t been to the bathroom alone in years. You may go to the bathroom alone because you have created a safe space (a playpen is fine!) where your child feels secure and you know he will not hurt himself if you need to leave for some amount of time.

He loves nursing.” “He loves TV.” “He loves when I play with him.” Read up on conditioning. What babies get, they come to expect, and eventually they need.

Here is a quote from the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) board of directors from 2010.

“The infant needs an intimate, stable relationship with at least one primary person. This relationship can best be developed during “care-time” — diapering, dressing, feeding and bathing. These activities offer excellent opportunities for teaching cooperation, language, body image and mutuality in task-oriented experiences. The infant is an active participant rather than a passive recipient  during care-time. The infant needs a safe and carefully designed environment in which to move, explore and manipulate. He thus achieves the stages of gross motor and sensory-motor development in his own time. Spontaneous, self-induced activities, which the infant pursues freely and autonomously, have an essential value for his/her physical and mental development. The pleasure in the process of exploration and mastery is self-reinforcing. The infant becomes intrinsically motivated to learn.  Meanwhile, the Educarer must learn to observe, understand and respect the individuality of the infant and respond with sensitivity and empathy to the infant’s cues.”

Be sure your baby has his me time, when he is free from your wanting to entertain, to be loved, to stimulate, to teach. He needs his wants nothing time for the best of himself to develop!

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The Ultimate Guide to Attachment

Babies need safe, reliable attachment. Babies and their carers co-determine their attachment in each moment they are together throughout the day. Babies communicate to us. Sometimes we think we know what babies need but how do we know? By observing! By sitting back and observing, we can get to know our child’s unique language. One baby might rub his ear when tired; another might give a distinct low moan; a hungry baby may smack his lips; his brother may crawl over to his feeding chair. We have to observe our baby to learn the language they speak. It has to be an immersion program!

The key to authentic attachment is respect. In America we tend to emphasize our children’s success but not their happiness. If we can see what they do, appreciate what they do, and not have expectations, we can do a great service for them. Do you know when this parenting attitude starts? With newborns. Everything we do with our children gives us and them a point of reference.

Our caring time (feeding, diapering, bathing) is as important as any other interaction and can be a a time for furthering our relationship. It may even be more important than any other activity because it is so intimate. They are developing a body image each time we touch them. They are learning about their bodies; their selves. Every time we touch them we’re giving a message. An infant is modified through every interaction we have with him. Are we saying “You are someone who is done TO not done WITH.” Is that what we want to say?

We also want to tap into our child’s inner initiative. We help them learn about this by talking to them as we are doing “to” them in diapering and changing,e tc. Then they begin to work with us more and more cooperatively by lifting their head while bathing, putting out their arm while changing. Eventually they will want to stand to change diapers and this should be allowed. We follow their instincts in their drive to independence. They are seeing themselves in a new way in relationship to us. Instead of lying down on a changer they want to stand and help us change. This builds confidence and they feel they are a partner with us, not an object to be dressed, bathed, diapered. They feel human. A strong inner initiator is about all they will ever need for success AND happiness.

How is this respectful relationship accomplished? By WAITING. Even when you pick him up, first communicate. “I’m going to pick you up now.” Wait for his signal that he is ready. Let him know that you have a cooperative, co-determining relationship with him. Most of us just grab a baby (even from behind) with no warning and take him where we want to go. The phone rings, we answer it. Someone else cries, we run with the undressed baby under one arm. Can’t we set things up so that this caring time is respectful and not let anything interrupt this important time together?

When we do this babies learn that they matter; that their perspective has value. If we treat babies as objects who need our custodial care, we teach them their senses don’t matter, their voice doesn’t matter, they don’t matter. They learn “I am an object.” If we place a breast or pacifier in their mouths every time they cry we are saying that their communication isn’t important to us.

This is how our babies attach to us – by being respected. They come to know we offer safe, predictable routines and interaction. They know we will give them freedom and time to process and follow their own directives. And they come to love us for it! We’re not just a warm body, we’re a  respectful, loving parent!


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Crying is Language & Babies Deserve Freedom of Expression Too

When a child cries and we try to distract him or, even worse, “plug” him with a pacifier, bottle or breast, we are telling him “Don’t feel uncomfortable. Your real feelings will not be acknowledged but will be suppressed or you will be talked out of them.” Who are we to tell children how to feel? It is uncomfortable to hear children cry. But why are we uncomfortable? Did we get the message that only the good news is acceptable to communicate? We need to work through these feelings.

Babies are always trying and failing and they are fine with that. Sometimes they are unhappy but they express it and move on. We can learn from them. We can’t give our babies a script.

Children co-determine their lives with each interaction. When they tell us they’re hungry by crying they are co-determining. They hear us preparing to feed them and the cry becomes an anticipating cry. The final cry, as the food approaches, is the relieved cry. The same thing happens in other instances. If we can observe them and learn their crying language we will be better co-determiners.

In the Dunstan Baby Language, the founder discovered that due to her gift of perfect pitch plus her lifelong music training she was able to discern her newborn’s cries. If we listen to our babies, we can learn what they are trying to tell us and better help them meet their needs.

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