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It’s a scene that rattles new parents and frustrates seasoned ones: your child screams from his bedroom in the middle of the night, startling you awake as you scramble to his room and find him sobbing and scared because of a nightmare. Nightmares can wreak havoc on a household’s ability to get restful sleep, and can lead to the child resisting bedtime unless it’s in Mom and Dad’s bed with the lights on.

While we can’t prevent nightmares from occurring altogether, we can take steps to better comfort our children after nightmares and to establish bedtime routines that experts believe reduce the frequency of nightmares.

What are nightmares?

A nightmare is a frightening dream involving an imagined danger that often causes children to wake up feeling afraid and needing comfort. Although children as young as toddlers can have nightmares, experts say that nightmares generally start between the ages of three and six years old, are common in children, and tend to decrease after the age of 10.

Nightmares typically occur after the child has been asleep for several hours and is in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. During the REM stage, the brain is especially active with processing vivid images and new information for learning and memory. When a child wakes up from a nightmare during the REM stage, the bad dream’s alarming images are still fresh and can seem real to the child.

Nightmares are different from night terrors, which are more serious but less common. Unlike nightmares, night terrors occur during the first few hours of sleep and cause children to thrash about while still asleep. Night terrors also differ from nightmares in that it is difficult to awaken a child from a night terror and, once awake, the child exhibits little to no recollection of the episode that caused the terror.

What causes nightmares?

The little research that has been done on children’s nightmares has not uncovered the exact cause of nightmares. In fact, nightmares can occur despite having no discernible source. However, experts advise that certain factors may increase a child’s risk of nightmares, notably:

  • A stressful situation or significant change at home or school
  • Sleep-deprivation or an irregular sleep routine
  • Scary TV shows, movies, stories, or other upsetting stimuli
  • A fever
  • Certain medications

Experts note that a nightmare’s theme often reflects the child’s developmental stage. For example, toddlers may have nightmares concerning separation-anxiety, young children may have nightmares stemming from their increasing responsibilities at home or at school, and older children’s nightmares may replay scenes from a scary movie they just saw or suspenseful book they just read.

Tips to comfort your child after a nightmare

Experts encourage parents to do the following to soothe a frightened child after a nightmare:

  • Reassure and comfort your child immediately. Children who wake up scared from a nightmare need to know right away that they are safe. Reassure your child that she’s secure and that the nightmare wasn’t real. Physical contact such as hugging or rubbing your child’s back after a nightmare can also help reduce anxiety, as can sitting with your child in her bedroom until she’s calm enough to fall back asleep.
  • Conquer the darkness with light or a lovey. Dash your child’s nighttime fright by turning on a nightlight or installing a dimmer switch in his bedroom. Give your child a favorite teddy bear or blanket to hold to help him settle down and return to sleep.
  • Don’t further your child’s belief in imaginary beings. If your child is jittery about monsters in the closet after a nightmare, open the closet door if she insists. However, resist telling your child to use a magic wand or lightsaber, for example, to make the imaginary creature disappear. While such monster-slaying tactics may provide temporary relief, they also confirm that the monster exists and thus may exacerbate bedtime anxiety in the long run.
  • Give children a sense of control over their nightmares. To help lessen nightmare distress, read your child stories in which a character overcomes his fear of nightmares. Parents can also defuse the terrifying aspect of a nightmare by drawing a picture of the scary image, tearing it up, and throwing it away.
  • Use positive images to replace foreboding ones. Another way to untangle a nightmare from your child’s thoughts is to have your child focus on positive images. Replace disconcerting images by reminding your child of a happy memory or an exciting future event.

Tips to help reduce the frequency of nightmares

We can’t completely prevent nightmares. However, we can facilitate restful sleep which, in turn, may help decrease the incidence of nightmares. Specifically, experts suggest taking the following steps to create a bedtime atmosphere of comfort and security for children:

  • Set a regular bedtime providing adequate sleep. Sleep-deprivation or an irregular bedtime are nightmare triggers.
  • Establish a routine that helps children wind down before bed. This can include reading a pleasant bedtime story together, singing soothing lullabies, or giving your child a relaxing bath.
  • Keep your child’s room free of any objects that interfere with sleep. Instead, encourage peaceful slumber with a cozy pillow and blanket, a favorite stuffed animal, and a nightlight. Older children may find comfort in a dreamcatcher being hung above their bed and learning the Native American belief behind the sleep aid.
  • Avoid upsetting stimuli before bed. Namely, avoid fear-provoking TV shows, movies, or stories.
  • Discuss nightmares during the daytime. Depending on the age of your child, shining some daylight on a nightmare’s theme may help identify the stressors behind the nightmare. Once pinpointed, guide your child on how to overcome those stressors and, hopefully, experience fewer nightmares.

Set the scene for sweeter dreams by making your child’s bedtime a tranquil experience. Your child will get a better night’s sleep and, as a bonus, so will you.

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One of the best—or worst—parts of the holiday season is taking our littles to get their pictures with Santa. Some kids relish in those few minutes of telling Santa Claus exactly what they want under their tree, while others are terrified and hate every second of it. Either way, it usually makes for some adorable photos to look back on over the years.

We asked #TeamMotherly to share their best Santa pics. With nearly 700 responses, it was hard to pare down our favorites. Here are some that we adored.

1. Pure happiness

—Aimee R.

2. A magical look

—Jen L.

3. Everyone is a bit unsure...

—Holly H.

4. The cutest elves

—Julia V.

5. A sweet encounter

—Rosanne S.

6. A little bit of drama

—Besty P.

7. Santa cuddles each year, please

—Chelsey S.

8. Mama said she cried after she took a good look at him 😂

—Chantille B.

9. Third time isn't always the charm

—Gina M.

10. Playing in the snow

—Liz T.

11. SO much excitement

—Ieena S.

12. Nope

—Melissa H.

13. She definitely made the 'nice' list

—Janesa N.

14. Mama, no!

—Jenny S.

15. One mama's heart grew by three sizes this year

—Melanie R.

16. Two loved this, two hated it

—Rose E.

17. This baby was happier than Santa

—Angelica A.

18. A precious encounter

—Stacy B.

19. "I'm only here for the cookie." 🍪

—Laura R.

20. Two Santas are better than one

—Menakshi S.

The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.

1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20


2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00


3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99


4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00


5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00


6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00


7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99


8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63


9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.

And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

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When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

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