Surviving the First Year: Two books to help you understand baby’s sleep

For most new parents, sleep quickly becomes an obsession, their most precious commodity. Parents of a newborn will happily trade exercise, sex, and time with friends for a shot at catching some Z’s–kind of like how a rat with ad libitum access to cocaine will happily forgo food.

(Yep, this assumes you’re not in sleep-obsession mode already. If you are currently in third trimester insomnia hell, my condolences. Sadly, the situation is unlikely to improve when your baby arrives.)

In 1943, psychology researcher Abraham Maslow mapped out his now famous hierarchy of human needs. This is reasonable approximation of what most people’s needs look like before having a baby:


And this is what they look like shortly after having a baby:

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This is why, when expecting my first child, one of the best pieces of advice I got was to start reading up on infant sleep before baby arrives.

Of course, just because this was good advice, doesn’t mean I took it. I didn’t. Instead, I focused my pre-baby sleuthing on how to avoid a C-section, which meant I  ended up frantic Google searching baby sleep while so sleep-deprived that I could barely remember my computer password. Don’t do this!

Have I convinced you yet?

If so, let’s move on to next question: What should you read about baby sleep? The options can feel endless and overwhelming. There’s the “no-cry” solutions. There are the people who tell you that introducing solids will get your baby to start sleeping a blissful 8 hours. (It won’t!) There’s the co-sleep until age 7 camp.

Everyone has an opinion. Trying to wade through all the opinions to get to real, evidence-based solutions while so tired you can barely string a sentence together is less fun than dealing with a newborn blowout on a stroller walk in the dead of winter. In short, it sucks.

So let me save you the trouble. Below are two excellent books on baby sleep that do the work for you. They are grounded in real data and offer clear, practical solutions for busy, tired parents.

1. Precious Little Sleep by Alexis Dubief.

Not only is Precious Little Sleep a great sleep reference for parents who want to be able to quickly look something up, it is also a fast easy read and often laugh out loud funny.

Like so many parents, Alexis Dubief began researching baby sleep after giving birth to her first child, a boy. Her son refused to sleep without being held. This is a pretty common newborn sleep demand that works great for your baby. But for you, not so much.

Now, after years of researching and helping tired parents, helping others get their babies to sleep better has become her self-proclaimed super power. And it really is.

Her book outlines how to get babies to sleep better using a variety of methods. She delves into both “no-cry” and “cry it out”–two terms she personally eschews, noting (correctly) that babies often “fuss” during no-cry methods and that babies experience lots of parental presence and soothing during “cry-it-out” methods. She instead calls these SWAPS and SLIPS.

Throughout her book, Dubief draws on a mix of research and direct experience to talk about which strategies work best for which babies (they’re all different!) and at which ages. This is super helpful, because teaching a 4-month-old to fall asleep on their own requires very different tactics than those used with a stubborn sleep-fighting toddler.

Although newborn sleep is what sends most parents into a deep zombie-like fog, Precious Little Sleep also covers naps and strategies for bedtime with older kids.

As a parent of older children, now 4 and 6, I appreciated her no nonsense, practical tips for ending the endless cycle of bedtime requests (more cuddles, more water, more stories): Fill their emotional bucket before bed, set firm limits, and starting an hour before bedtime, move them from high energy activities and bright light to low energy activities and low light.

Her book is full of clear guidance like that, making it a wonderful go-to reference for your baby’s later years as well.

Get it here: Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents

Or order the Kindle edition (a steal at only $2.00!): Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents

2. The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, by one of my favorite bloggers, Alice Callahan.

With a PhD in nutrition and postdoctoral training in fetal physiology, Alice Callahan is obviously super smart, but in a totally low ego, unshowy way.

In this book, she delves deep into the scientific literature on hot button parenting topics like breastfeeding, introducing solids, and vaccines, then surfaces to interweave her evidence-based conclusions with practical experience in a clear, sensible, and nonjudgmental voice.

This means that for navigating common parent concerns, Callahan is the ultimate trustworthy guide. She provides copious references, clear examples, and lots of practical tips. Her writing on infant nutrition, in particular, is bar none.

But back to sleep… While her book covers a lot of common first year questions, her two chapters on sleep (“Where Should Your Baby Sleep?”) and (“In Search of a Good Night’s Sleep”) provide the best data-based summaries I have ever encountered on how to reduce the risk of SIDS and how to help your baby to sleep better, longer and to fall asleep on their own (what Callahan calls self-soothing). Those two chapters are worth their weight in gold. (Or more to the point, worth their weight in long extra hours of uninterrupted sleep. Wouldn’t you trade gold for that?)

Parents who want to know the data behind the recommendations, to get advice without being talked down to, and who want to understand why they’re being told what they’re being told by their pediatrician should check out The Science of Mom.

Get it here: The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year


Learn everything you ever wanted to know about prenatal genetic testing by downloading my ebook!

Who needs prenatal testing for genetic disorders? How much does your risk of carrying a baby with a genetic disorder increase with your age? Which prenatal test or screen is right for you?

These are among the questions my amazing co-author Molly Dickens (and fellow pregnant scientist blogger/partner-in-crime) and I tackle in our new ebook on prenatal testing. We provide a quick “cheat sheet” on how these tests compare, and then dig into the nitty-gritty details of each as well as the history of prenatal testing and how to estimate your personal risk of carrying a baby with a genetic disorder.

Even having gone through prenatal testing twice before, I was still surprised to learn while researching this book that…

  1. Testing only women over 35, as was the case in the 80s and early 90s, misses around 70% of the cases of Down’s Syndrome.
  2. The risk of miscarriage from amnio and CVS is around 1 in 1000–far, far lower than the still commonly cited but outdated 1 in 100 estimate.
  3. Until you are 38 years old, you are more likely to carry a baby with a chromosomal disorders involving tiny pieces of chromosomes than carry a baby with disorder involving missing or extra whole chromosomes–but these disorders are not well detected by any prenatal screens. This is a huge problem, because younger women are often advised to get screens over diagnostic testing.
  4. How women under 35 are more than twice as likely to get a false alarms on prenatal screens as women over 35.

And so much more that I am excited to share.

We all need to up-to-date, evidence-based information to make the best decisions for us and our families. But with prenatal testing rapidly evolving, sometimes doctors and other healthcare professionals are woefully behind or outright misinformed on the latest developments. So please download and share with fellow parents-to-be!

Download the pdf here: Prenatal Testing ebook.

How much iron does my baby need?

Too little iron in infancy can cause irreversible cognitive deficits. And iron deficiency can have no symptoms. It’s scary.

Yet the advice parents get on meeting your baby’s iron needs is complex, conflicting, and incredibly confusing.

Continue reading “How much iron does my baby need?”

Breast may be best, but why isn’t it better?

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (yes, yes, I know–it ended yesterday), we need to talk about a widely overlooked aspect of breastfeeding, its recipients!

Nope, I am not talking about our babies. (After all, who could overlook them?) I am talking about their gut bacteria.

Breast milk contains special carbohydrates (called HMOs for Human Milk Oligosaccharides) designed to nourish specific gut bacteria, especially a type known as Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria contain genes desiged to metabolize HMOs–implying they have co-evolved with us for a long time.

This process of seeding your baby’s gut begins not with breastfeeding, though, but before birth. During pregnancy, women’s bodies cultivate these bacteria while pruning out others, seemingly in preparation to pass them onto our babies during birth.

Why does this matter? Health benefits.

Breastfeeding may benefit health indirectly–by cultivating the right gut bacteria. Scientists now believe that having the right balance of gut bacteria helps to calibrate your baby’s immune system and metabolism, possibly with lifelong effects.

I dig into the latest research on this breastfeeding-gut-health axis in my latest post for BloomLife. Check it out!…

Drinking While Nursing: 7 Things to Know

While over half of mothers in the U.S. drink alcohol while breastfeeding, many of us are foggy on how this does (or does not) affect our babies.

Can you drink a glass of wine while breastfeeding your baby? Or do you need you wait 2-3 hours for the alcohol to clear? And exactly how much alcohol is too much alcohol to nurse?

Doctors and trusted sources like KellyMom and Babycenter give wildly conflicting advice on these points.

Continue reading “Drinking While Nursing: 7 Things to Know”

A quick update and where to check out some of my latest writing elsewhere on the web

As you may have noticed, it has been a while since I have posted on this blog. Rest assured, I have a ton of great content in the works.

But what has been keeping me too busy to post and up at night? Well, Baby #3 for starters. (Now 8 months! How time flies… or with a new baby, how it passes in slow motion and sudden leaps.)

And in my stolen moments (read:naps) I have been writing content for a company called BloomLife. BloomLife makes a contraction tracker, just like those used in a hospital but for at home use. It syncs with your phone and lets you know if you are experiencing contractions, how strong they are, and how long they last.

Baby #3 and her big sister. None of us were quite ready to wake up the morning this picture was taken. Yet there we were, up.

Many of my posts for Bloom will be of interest to my readers, so I wanted to share them with you here. Hop on over and check them out!

  • Prenatal Genetic Testing and Screening. My take on the new kid on the prenatal genetic screening block, Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) and why it needs to be offered to all women, not just women over 35.
  • Stalled Labor. My first labor was going gangbusters until I arrived at the hospital, where it swiftly ground to a halt. This is a common birthing experience. At the time, I blamed the slowdown on stress, but another unexpected culprit may have been to blame: those glaring florescent hospital lights. Here’s more on how humans evolved to labor at night, and why laboring women would be wise to dim those darn lights!
  • Exercise during pregnancy. Should you avoid starting a new exercise program while pregnant? Do you need to keep your heart rate below 140? Will lifting weights prompt preterm labor? Contrary to what you may have heard, the answer to all of these questions is an emphatic NO. I discuss the all these exercise myths here, and talk about the latest research and recommendations on exercise for pregnant women.
  • Natural Remedies for Group B Strep. Anywhere from quarter to a third of pregnant women test positive for Group B Strep (GBS) in their third trimester. In the U.S., this means receiving IV antibiotics during labor, to prevent early-onset Group B Strep, a serious but rare infection that occurs when a newborn contracts GBS during birth. But nobody wants to receive antibiotics if they can avoid it, especially during birth, when mom needs to pass her microbiome–a diverse collection of healthy bacteria and other microbes–to her baby. So, is there anything you can do to avoid testing positive? I talk about the research on vinegar rinses, yogurt squatting, and probiotics here.

What I’ve Been Doing the Last Few Weeks

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog, so I wanted to give my readers a bit of an update on what I’ve been up to these past couple of months.

Mostly I’ve been away because of some good news: I’m expecting our third child, a girl, coming sometime in October!

Continue reading “What I’ve Been Doing the Last Few Weeks”