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“I wonder how we can get them to sleep more.”


This simple thought, expressed by my wife, not even a question, became a challenge to me. My engineer mind took this as a problem to be solved, and when a software developer sees a problem, they devise tests. Luckily, I knew the perfect system for testing out some ideas in a controlled and measurable setting. And with twins, testing would be even easier. Welcome to parenting, A/B testing style.

A/B testing is used all over the web. You likely encounter it dozens, if not hundreds of times a day, without even noticing it. All the big tech companies do it, using it as a tool to test the performance of ideas and measure them.

Google is famous for testing 41 shades of blue for search results. Designers allegedly couldn’t decide which of two shades to use, so they tested 41 in total to see which led to the more users clicking on the results.

Facebook tests different experiences within the feed constantly. Amazon even changes around the buy buttons and cart layouts fairly often. You may notice these if you ever log in from a new computer or see a friend using a site that looks subtly different from yours.

A/B testing is used to test one or more “treatments” or experiments over a “control” or the existing experience. A metric is measured, usually based on a user action such as a click through or “conversion” with a baseline against the control.

For the Google example, they might test the likelihood of users clicking through to at least one result with the different shade. After a statistically significant period of time, often a week or two, whichever experience has a better rate will be chosen as the winner and becomes the new control.

Where this gets really complicated is when multiple experiments are run at the same time or when the percentage of users is not equally split. Here a complicated knowledge of statistics is needed. Or the use of any of the many powerful testing tools available. At Audible and Amazon, we test experiences like this all the time. It’s the best way to see how users actually behave as often what users say they will do and what they do can be slightly different.

At Audible and Amazon, we test experiences like this all the time. It’s the best way to see how users actually behave, as often, what users say they will do and what they do can be slightly different.

Charting results

I decided to use this method of testing with the boys to see if we could increase the most important metric in the house, as anyone with 10-week old children, especially twins, knows: sleep times. Using one of the boys as a control and the other as the treatment – nevermind the fact that no one would describe any part of our lives right now with the words “control” or “treatment” – I tested several theories about length of sleep, baselined against the control.

In any experiment, accurate measurement and data tracking are critical. Often a success metric is chosen due to the availability of data or measurability. You don’t want to be trying to measure something that takes longer to measure than it does to change the test or test input. Luckily measuring sleep is about as easy as it gets.

When they wake up at night, we just write it down. This is exactly what we’ve been doing since the day they were born as the nurses at the hospital instructed us. We’ve gone through several notebooks already, but it’s so easy to track. For this, we even started importing the data into a spreadsheet to see the impact more visually.

 

Big Data

First, we tested increasing the amount given at the feeding immediately before bedtime. Instead of the normal four ounces, we tried five, then six. To prevent bias from one child, we alternated who was the test and who was the control since they seem to be on alternating cycles. While one child had a larger evening feeding, the other would stay at four ounces. The result: inconclusive.
Both children seemed to start increasing length of sleep anyway during this period. They both slept almost the exact same length of time as well. There was one night where an increased feeding correlated with a record 5.5 hour stretch of sleep, but one data point is insignificant in this dataset.
It was also hard to continue testing this as anything beyond five ounces had a high likelihood of being spit out a few minutes after eating.

Next was a secret whispered about in the dark corners of parent blogs around the web and passed from parent to fellow parent, at least in my office, gripe water. Ok maybe it isn’t that much of a secret, but it took us a while to try it. Supposedly this mix of herbs and spices, as opposed to KFC’s blend, would settle stomachs from reflux and gas, especially overnight, resulting in longer sleep.

After a week of testing, we found it did actually help with reflux, especially spit ups, and though we didn’t track individual burps or farts, seemed to reduce them as well. The length of sleep was not impacted much, though. We did see a small increase on average, between 20 and 30 minutes, but again this may have been natural increases due to age.

No reflux equals a happy baby

After gripe water, which became the new control, we tested an extra feeding before bed. The boys were starting to do this naturally on their own, anyway, and we had been trying to prevent it. However, it seemed like an opportunity ripe for testing, so we gave it a shot. Many children will “cluster” feed before bed, with a second feeding only a short time after the previous one. We did this feeding about 1.5 to 2 hours after the previous, compared to 3 hours normally. In this feeding, we tried 4 ounces compared with the 4–5 they normally take during daytime feedings. Sometimes they would refuse to take more than 3. Of all the experiments, this seemed to work best. We saw increases in up to an extra hour of sleep as a result, though often not until a few days into the experiment, apparently this takes time to affect sleep patterns. A good lesson for A/B tests is that sometimes there is a several day adjustment period while people figure out the new treatment and adjust. It’s important to capture both the adjustment period results and the post-adjustment ones, though. Apple has famously neglected the adjustment period on several product launches, notably maps.

Last, we tested keeping them awake longer during the day. Our hypothesis was that they would therefore, be more tired at night and would sleep longer as a result. This may have been slightly true, we saw minor increases in length of sleep, but we didn’t account for the stress and exhaustion it would cause by keeping them awake and making them unhappy. It also took significantly longer to get them to settle down and sleep at night as they were overtired and fussy. The lesson for testing: don’t sacrifice other metrics for a small gain in one.

You can’t make me sleep!

Many of these tests were inconclusive. This is largely due to the sample size. With a sample population like Facebook, tests can be done in small segments and achieve statistical significance very quickly. With twins, it’s hard to know what is a real result and what is personality or natural progression. In order to more accurately test, we may need to increase the sample size. Triplets would come in handy for this. Maybe someone else’s triplets though, we are definitely not ready for that!

This also shows the importance of the test, measure, iterate process. Though several of the methods didn’t show large improvements, put together they may. By using the treatment as the control when it outperforms the control, small improvements get stacked. By continuing to try new things quickly and moving on, it’s easy to come up with new ideas to try. You don’t need to move the mountain, just move little handfuls of dirt over a long time. With this approach to parenting, the boys can continuously grow as well. And with luck, so will our sanity, well-being, and lives as parents.

This piece was originally published on Dad On The Run.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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

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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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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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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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As parents, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure our babies' brains are developing as quickly as possible. But the irony is, for many years the best way our little ones can learn and grow is through play. In fact, research has shown that reading stories, playing simple games, and engaging with toys is one of the best ways to boost baby's brain development for years to come.

It's those kind of findings that fuels the work at People Toy Company, a Japanese-based toy company that believes in encouraging the natural development of children through research-backed toys. Every toy in their line is developed to make playtime engaging for parents and children alike while helping little ones achieve developmental milestones through play.

Here are 10 of our favorite toys for engaging little minds and encouraging motor development from baby's first weeks and beyond.

TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS BEFORE 6 MONTHS

1. Mochi Double Pendant Necklace (newborn on)

It's a fact of life that babies love to explore their world with their mouths. Save your jewelry by swapping in this teething necklace made from rice. Babies will love the easy-to-hold shape and textured design—you'll love the neutral color palette that goes with any outfit.

Mochi Double Pendant Necklace, Amazon, $15.99

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TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS AFTER 6 MONTHS

1. Magic Reflection Ball (6 month)

Encourage independent play from six months on with this constantly changing reflection ball. Use the suction cup to attach it to different smooth surfaces to encourage pulling up and standing later on.

People Magic Reflection Ball, Amazon, $8.99

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

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