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10 crucial habits that help baby (and parents!) get better sleep

Teaching your baby healthy sleep habits doesn't have to start when they've reached a certain age or milestone. Although each developmental stage will have different sleeping habits and patterns, introducing healthy sleep hygiene from the start is a great way to ensure long-term sleep health.

Adopt these 10 sleep habits with your child from birth to help you establish a strong foundation for sleep. (And don't worry, if your baby is older, you can still incorporate these habits into your current routine!)

1. Use light and darkness to your advantage. 

Exposing your baby to light first thing in the morning and throughout the day will help them distinguish the difference between day and night, driving their circadian rhythm. Natural sunlight will keep baby alert and stimulated throughout the day, which is important for development.

Darkness is equally as important. Your baby's room should be dark for all naps and bedtime, signaling to their body that it is time to sleep. In the evening, you can start dimming the lights in the house about two hours before bedtime to prepare them for the transition to sleep.

2. Develop a routine

Even when your baby is a newborn, you can start thinking about a routine that will help them learn when sleep is coming. Although a newborn's sleeping patterns are erratic and unpredictable, a bedtime routine is still beneficial at any age.

When your child is younger the routine will likely include more rocking and helping to settle, whereas an older baby might fall asleep more independently. Some ideas for a routine are: Bath, books, rocking, swaddling, infant massage and singing. Of course, you can decide what works best for your family and your baby.

3. Eliminate exposure to blue lights and electronics before bed.

This is true at any age, including adulthood. Blue lights from screens easily suppress melatonin, our sleepy hormone, and it happens fairly quickly. This is why it is best to turn off the television and any other electronics at least two hours before bedtime.

​4. Keep your baby's sleep environment consistent.

When your baby is first born, it might seem like they will fall asleep anywhere and everywhere and it will be tempting to let them do so. While napping on the go is somewhat inevitable for the first couple months, I always encourage sleep to happen in your baby's own sleep environment.

So whether that is in a bassinet in your room or a crib in their room, teaching them to sleep in the same environment consistently will help avoid difficult transitions later and encourage longer sleep stretches without distraction.

​5. Encourage healthy sleep "props."

Many parents worry that the use of a pacifier or other sleep objects creates a habit that is difficult to break later on, but I highly encourage the use of sleep objects as long as they don't become the only thing that will get your child to sleep.

A pacifier, white noise machine, lovey, small blanket, or swaddle/sleep sack are all great sleep promoting objects, depending on baby's age. Many babies will naturally transition out of using one or more of these items as they get older and if they don't you can help them do so using various methods.

6. Honor sleepy signs and cues. 

Most babies will show clear signs that they are ready for sleep as early as six weeks. Following appropriate awake windows for your baby's age will help avoid over-tiredness, but sometimes listening to your baby is all you need to do.

Rubbing their eyes, consistent yawning, extreme fussiness and drooping eyes, are all signs that your child is ready for sleep soon and it is important to put them down quickly to avoid missing that window.

​7. Make sure your baby's environment promotes sleep.

One of the reasons sleep in transit or sleeping in different environments each day isn't a great idea is because it can be overstimulating and distracting for your baby. But some parents don't realize that their baby's room or dedicated sleep environment is also distracting.

The area that your baby is sleeping should be free of distraction, which includes toys, lights, artwork, and colors. It is best to have minimal objects in the room and neutral colors to eliminate overstimulation.

Room temperature is also key as you don't want your baby waking because they are too cold or too hot. The recommended room temperature for your baby is between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.

​8. Follow a consistent schedule and routine as best as possible. 

For the first eight weeks of your baby's life, a schedule really isn't possible since sleep isn't consolidated yet. As they get older, it is a good idea to set consistent nap and bedtimes and stick to it. As your baby's sleep cycles develop, she will have the ability to follow a schedule and it is a good idea to implement one that you follow consistently.

Of course, there will be times when you need to adjust nap times because of a commitment, traveling, or having to get out of the house, but it shouldn't be the norm. I encourage the 80/20 rule which means 80% of the time you are following a sleep schedule and 20% of the time you can be a bit more relaxed.

​9. Practice independent sleep skills.

When your child is younger, they will need more assistance from you to fall and stay asleep. As babies develop, they have the capability of sleeping independently more often and it is important to encourage that.

Independent sleeping does not mean you should leave your child to cry until they fall asleep, as this is often the perception—but, rather teaching them that they can fall back asleep on their own as they transition from one sleep cycle to the next.

One way you can do this is by recognizing what their noises and cries mean and when you need to come to their assistance. For example, it is completely normal for your baby to wake up multiple times throughout the night and stir, change positions or make noises.

If you run into their room the moment they're awake, they'll associate all wake-ups with a parent coming to the rescue. If you allow them the opportunity to fall back asleep, they will learn that they are capable of doing so.

If they become upset very quickly after waking up, that might be an indication that something else is going on and they truly do need assistance.

10. Prioritize adequate nutrition. 

It is important that your baby is getting enough to eat during the day to avoid multiple night wakings. Although babies newborn to about 6 months will still be taking feeds at night, it is a good idea to encourage a full belly throughout the day and before bed.

Once they start solids, you want to avoid certain foods, such as sugar, that could interfere with their ability to fall asleep.

Healthy sleep is as vital to our bodies as eating and drinking and although baby sleep can seem complex, starting with these foundations might be all that your baby needs to become a great sleeper!

A version of this article appears in The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama: Redefining the Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum Journey.

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An expectant mama's to-do list can feel endless… but here's the good news: A lot of those tasks are actually really exciting. Planning your baby registry is especially thrilling: You get a say in what gifts friends and family members will buy for your new addition!

But it can also feel a bit overwhelming to make sense of all the gear on the market. That's why we suggest mentally dividing your registry into two categories: items you need to prepare for your baby's arrival and items that sure would be nice to have.

Here at Motherly, our editors have dozens of kids and years of parenting experience among us, so we know our way around the essentials. We also know how mama-friendly the registry-building experience is with Target, especially thanks to their recently upgraded registry and introduction of Year of Benefits. Just by creating your baby registry with Target, you'll snag a kit with $120 in discounts and samples. The savings keep coming: You'll also get two 15% off coupons to buy unpurchased items from your registry for up to a year after your baby's expected arrival. Change your mind about anything? The Year of Benefits allows for returns or exchanges for a full year. And as of August 2020, those who also sign up for Target Circle when creating a baby registry will also get the retailer's Year of Exclusive Deals, which includes ongoing discounts on baby essentials for a full year.

Here are 10 items we agree deserve a spot in the "need" category on your registry, mama.


A crib to grow with your baby

Delta Children Farmhouse 6-in-1 Convertible Crib

First-time mamas are likely creating nursery spaces for the first time, and that can get expensive. Adding a quality crib to Target registry gives friends and family members the option to join forces to make a large purchase through group gifting.

$269.99

A safe + convenient car seat

Safety 1st OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat

The list of non-negotiable baby essentials is pretty short, but it definitely includes a car seat. In fact, most hospitals will not allow you to leave after delivery until a car seat check is performed. We recommend an infant seat, which can easily snap into a base in your car.

$99.99

A traveling nursery station

Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

It's hard to beat a good playard when it comes to longevity. This item can be baby's sleeping place when they're sharing a room with you for the first months. Down the line, it can function as a roving diaper change station. And when you travel, it makes a great safe space for your little one to sleep and play.

$99.99

A swing for some backup help

4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

A dependable swing can be a real lifesaver for new parents when they need their hands free (or just a minute to themselves). Because many babies are opinionated about these things, we appreciate that the mamaRoo has multiple modes of motion and soothing sounds.

$219.99

An easy-to-clean high chair

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

Our best registry advice? Think ahead. It really won't be long before your child is ready for those first bites of solid food, at which point you'll need a high chair. We like one that transitions to a booster seat atop an existing dining room chair.

$99.99

A diaper bag to share

Eddie Bauer Backpack - Gray/Tan

When you're a mom, you're usually toting diapers, wipes, clothing changes, bottles, snacks, toys and more. You need a great bag to stash it all, and if you're anything like us, you'll choose a backpack style for comfort and functionality. Bonus: This gender neutral option can easily be passed off to your partner.

$64.99

A hygienic spot for all those diaper changes

Munchkin Secure Grip Waterproof Diaper Changing Pad 16X31"

We can confidently predict there will be a lot of diaper changes in your future. Do yourself a favor by registering for two comfortable, wipeable changing pads: one to keep in the nursery and another to stash elsewhere in your house.

$29.99

A way to keep an eye on your baby at night

Infant Optics Video Baby Monitor DXR-8

Feeling peace of mind while your baby sleeps in another room truly is priceless.That's why we advocate for a quality video monitor that will allow you to keep tabs on your snoozing sweetheart.

$165.99

A comfortable carrier to free up your hands

Petunia Pickle Bottom for Moby Wrap Baby Carrier, Strolling in Salvador

A wrap carrier may be about as low-tech as baby items come, but trust us, this product stands the test of time. Great for use around the house or while running errands, this is one item you'll appreciate so much.

$39.99

A full set of bottles + cleaning supplies

Dr. Brown's Options+ Complete Baby Bottle Gift Set

Whether you plan to work in an office or stay at home, breastfeed or formula feed, bottles are a valuable tool. To make your life as simple as possible, it's nice to have an easy-to-clean set that is designed to work through the first year.

$39.99

Target's baby registry is easy to create from the comfort of your own home. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with the Year of Benefits featuring exclusive deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Cameron Diaz on having a baby at 47: 'You really have to work hard for it'

"The only pressure for me now is I have to live to be, like, 107, you know? No pressure!"

This is the decade that saw the face of first-time motherhood change. The number of first-time mamas under 30 is shrinking, while more and more women are becoming moms after 40.

Cameron Diaz is one of them. The actress and businesswoman, now 48, became a mom in January at the age of 47. In a new episode of Naomi Campbell's YouTube series, No Filter, Diaz opens up about what it's like to become a mom in your fourth decade.

"A lot of people do it the other way around ... they get married [and] have a family in their youth," says Diaz."I'm kind of doing it in the second half of my life."

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