Category Archives: Feeding Your Baby

Feeling Clueless? Reading Your Baby’s Cues

By Meri Levy, MFT

father babyPeople have a physiological reaction to the sound of a baby crying. Our hearts pound, our blood pressure rises, and we start to sweat. This reaction causes most of us to try to stop the crying, regardless of how tired, irritable, or hungry we might be ourselves. And that’s a good thing. It’s how our babies learn to trust that their needs will be met and that the world is a safe place.

But sometimes (often!) new parents wonder what the baby is trying to say? What does the baby need? We run around randomly, trying different remedies: jiggling the baby, rocking the baby, changing her diaper, offering a breast or the bottle, or a pacifier. And sometimes the baby still cries. We desperately want to eliminate the cause of the crying, and we become frustrated, angry or guilty when we fail.

I faced this situation with my first child, Benjamin. I never knew what he wanted. He seemed to be constantly fussing, and I was never very good at calming him (and I did not feel calm myself). My second child, Elijah, always wanted to eat, so it was easier to consistently meet his needs. But I had not really improved my ability to read a baby’s signals.

With my third child, Emma, I hoped and prayed she would never (or rarely) cry, so I wouldn’t feel quite so inadequate again. But in the meantime, I picked up a copy of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. I had heard her on a talk show, and she claimed she get babies to sleep through the night, on their own, without letting them cry. This was a secret I wanted in on.

What I got from the book was very different from what I expected. The book is not for everyone. The author is not an advocate of “attachment parenting,” for example. But regardless of your parenting philosophy, The Baby Whisperer has a lot of good information about caring for your baby in a respectful way. She focuses on honoring your baby’s individuality, understanding how babies communicate, and learning how to meet their individual needs.

The book prompted me to stop when Emma began to cry, and to really listen and observe her, rather than jumping in and trying to “rescue” her without knowing what she was asking for. When I figured out what she was saying to me, I was in a much better position to meet her needs.

Here are some of the body language cues discussed in the book that I have found helpful:


    • Yawning;
    • Moving head from side to side;
    • Flailing, uncoordinated arms, clawing at face;
    • Strong, uncoordinated kicking;
    • Bloodshot eyes.

Overstimulation/overtiredness, same as above, plus:

    • Turns away from objects and faces;
    • “Seven-mile stare.”


    • Turning head to one side and craning neck back with an open mouth;
    • Bringing hands to mouth, trying to suck them;
    • Pursing lips;
    • Curling tongue at sides.


    • Quivering bottom lip;
    • Extremities turning bluish;
    • Mottled skin;
    • Goose pimples;


  • Silent screaming, then gasp and audible wail
  • Grimacing, often scrunched up face
  • Arms shaking, slight tremor
  • Rigid torso
  • Legs pulled up to chest

What I discovered, from observing Emma more closely and choosing how to respond to her body language and cries, is that frequently what I used to interpret as hunger or gas was in fact tiredness or overstimulation. What happens if you feed a tired baby who isn’t hungry is that frequently she may get gas and be overtired and more difficult to put to sleep.

The goal is not to stop all crying. Babies cry to express themselves, and even a “perfect” parent, if such a thing existed, couldn’t prevent all crying. Nor should you, necessarily; your baby may benefit from having a chance occasionally to self-soothe, which is an important skill as your baby grows older. For subsequent children, this skill is learned by necessity because parents can’t always respond immediately. But by learning to read your baby’s cues, you can avoid some frustration for yourself and have the confidence to know you are doing the best you can for your baby.

Helping Your Baby Sleep Better

Gentle Tips for Helping Your Baby Sleep Through the Night

By Meri Levy, MFT, CLE

It’s a very rare new mom who isn’t exhausted much of the time. Newborns don’t sleep the way adults do, and it can be a very difficult transition for new parents to adapt to their newborn’s sleeping patterns, and sometimes an even harder one to eventually adapt their baby’s sleep schedule to one that allows Mom and Dad to get a good night’s sleep.

Newborns are used to being lulled to sleep by Mom’s voice and activity during the day while in utero, and can be more active at night (remember those kicks waking you up at 3am?). So at first, it isn’t uncommon for the baby to have days and nights reversed. But don’t worry too much. Humans are diurnal creatures by nature (active during daylight hours) and there’s not much you need to do except expose your baby to daylight during the day for the baby to adapt to sleeping at night. Although it may feel like a long time coming…

Another way you can help your baby to distinguish day from night is to spend plenty of time holding your baby and interacting during the day when the baby is alert, and avoiding eye contact and being more businesslike about feeding and changing during the middle of the night. Regardless of how adorable your baby is in the wee hours, if you save your quality interaction for the daytime hours, your baby will sleep more consistently at night.

Most babies are not ready to sleep more than a few hours at a stretch until they are at least three months old and weigh 12lbs or more. Some babies will start to sleep longer intervals on their own around this time. If you have questions about whether your baby can go without feedings for longer than three to four hours, discuss your concerns with your pediatrician.

After four months or so, the decision of whether to feed and change the baby during the night is a controversial one. Ask 10 parenting experts at what age your baby could be sleeping through the night, and you’re bound to get 11 answers! So, this can be one of the hardest decisions new parents must make: at what age do I want to encourage my baby to sleep through the night, and how far am I willing to go to make that happen?

Factors to consider when making this decision include your pediatrician’s advice, your parenting philosophy, how badly you need more sleep (which depends on your sensitivity to stress), and how often your baby is waking during the night. One Mom may be content to sleep with her baby and feed continuously throughout the night for a year or so. Another may not be able to sleep well at all with her baby, have a baby that wakes every two hours to feed, and desperately needs more sleep to function well. Only you can make that decision. If you’re doing well with the way your baby sleeps at night, this article isn’t for you – yet. But if your baby’s sleep pattern changes or you decide it’s time for a change, you may want to consider some tips for encouraging your baby to sleep through the night.

If you will not want to continue feeding your baby throughout the night for many months, it’s a good idea to get into the habit early of putting your baby to bed at least partly awake. Just as you would wake up upset if you fell asleep with a pillow and woke to find it gone, your baby can be startled if he or she falls asleep at your breast or in your arms and wakes up alone. So putting the baby to bed in the same way he or she will need to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night is a good idea to encourage the baby to sleep through the night when he or she is ready. That doesn’t mean you can never nurse your baby to sleep, but at least some of the time, put the baby to bed when he or she is sleepy but partly awake. The earlier you start this, the easier it may be for the baby to transition to falling asleep out of your arms.

If you do decide to help your baby along in the process of sleeping through the night, it may be difficult to do this with the baby in your bed or even in your room. Studies show that cosleeping mothers and babies impact each other extensively during the night. Up until three months, the baby’s stirring and waking rouse the mother. But after four months, frequently the sounds or sensations of the mother stirring rouse the baby, who then wakes up to feed. So the first step is establishing the baby in a safe crib in a room where he or she can’t hear every move that Mom makes. Sometimes this, in and of itself, can cause the baby to start sleeping through the night.

The second thing that you can do, if moving the baby to his or her own room isn’t enough, is to begin consistently putting the baby down to sleep when sleepy but still awake. That means when you’re feeding during the night and the baby starts to nod off, burp him for a minute to rouse him a bit, and try to make sure you put him back to bed before he is fully asleep. Another aspect to this is feeding the baby only enough to satisfy but not fill her up. In the early days you wanted to get as much milk as possible into the baby to encourage her to sleep longer. But when you are trying to help your baby sleep through the night, it is a good idea to have smaller feedings in the middle of the night, so he eats more during the day and gets used to meeting his caloric needs then.

Once your baby is only taking small feedings at night and can fall back to sleep in his crib on his own, he is more likely to give up the nighttime feedings entirely. And if he doesn’t, you are in a better position to encourage him to give up the night feedings than if he was feeding a lot at night (and therefore hungry) and falling asleep in your arms.

Whether you allow your baby to fuss or cry for a period of time with or without you in the room is something you need to decide in consultation with your pediatrician. It is a very difficult decision for any parent to let their baby fuss along in his crib, but some babies will not learn to sleep on their own without expressing some protest. If you do let your baby cry, it is OK to soothe him or her at regular intervals, but you should not “give in” and pick the baby up. If you do, you are teaching your baby to cry for longer periods of time in expectation that you will eventually come and pick them up. So you need to be really prepared for how you want to handle what comes up and stick to your plan.

In my own case, only one of my three kids was so challenging during the night that I eventually needed to let him cry it out — he was waking every 45 minutes at night to have his pacifier put back in his mouth and I was about to totally lose it! (An aside – he was the kid who most needed limits in all areas of life). It was a tough few nights, after weaning him off the pacifier during the day first, but he did learn to get himself back to sleep after only a few days. And I loved him so much more that first morning when I had had a full night’s sleep — 7:30pm to 7am. And interestingly, he’s been the best sleeper of the three consistently since that time. He’s only one who never complains of difficulty falling asleep, even at 21 years old!

It can be very challenging making decisions of how to work with your baby around sleep. Remember, there’s no one perfect way to parent, and every baby is different.

Increasing Your Breastmilk Supply

Making Sure Your Breastfed Infant Is Getting Enough to Eat

By Meri Hanson Levy, MFT, CLE

Ever wonder “is my breast-fed baby getting enough to eat?” Click the link for tips to tell if your breastfed baby is getting enough milk. Most nursing moms make more than enough milk for their baby, but sometimes nature needs a little boost to get things moving in the right direction.

If you’re trying to increase your milk supply, here are some ideas from my experience working with new moms and lactation consultants at the Center.

  • Try fenugreek seed capsules or More Milk Plus. We’ve seen that Fenugreek capsules and More Milk Plus are the best natural products out there to increase your milk supply safely and effectively.
  • Nurse often — at least 8-12 times a day during the first two months. Your baby is better than any breast pump at stimulating your milk supply. And emptying the breast completely tells your body to make more milk. To encourage your baby to empty your breasts more completely, use gentle breast compression to bring down additional milk when your baby begins to swallow less often during a feeding. If your baby is not nursing well or often enough, use a high-quality breast pump. You can use a breast pump after each breastfeeding to give your milk supply an additional boost.
  • Drink lots of water, get plenty of rest, and eat nutritious food. Many mothers are able to produce adequate milk on little sleep and an inadequate diet, but if your milk supply is low, your body may need to be nourished and rested in order to produce more milk for your baby.
  • Birth control pills (even the “mini-pill”), antihistamines and other medications may affect your milk supply. If you have any questions, talk to your health professional.

There are other techniques and products that can assist with increasing breastmilk supply. A good resource can be found on La Leche League’s Website

Storing Breastmilk Safely

Making The Most of the Breastmilk You Pump

By Meri Hanson Levy, MFT, CLE

Make the most of your breastmilk storage by safely pumping and storing your milk.

  • Wash your hands before you pump. Starting with clean hands ensures your milk is free from bacteria that can spoil it more quickly.
  • Store your milk in 1-4 oz amounts to reduce wasted milk when thawing for bottles.
  • You can combine milk pumped at different times as long as all the milk is chilled before combining.
  • Refrigerated milk has more anti-infective properties than frozen milk. Use refrigerated milk before frozen milk if you have it handy.
  • Breastmilk can be stored at room temperature for up to 10 hours, in a refrigerator for up to 8 days, or in a freezer up to 6 months (if your freezer is cold enough to keep ice cream hard).
  • Use hard-sided plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids, or freezer bags that are designed for storing breastmilk.
  • You can thaw and heat breastmilk under warm, running tap water. Never boil or microwave breastmilk.
  • Mix or shake bottle before testing the temperature. It is normal for breastmilk to separate when stored.
  • If milk has been frozen and thawed, it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours for later use. It should not be refrozen.
  • Once heated and offered to your baby, you may offer the remaining breastmilk one more time, but it should be discarded after two hours.

Coping With Sore Nipples

By Meri Levy, MFT, CLE

You’ve decided to breastfeed, and you should feel great about it! You are doing a wonderful thing for your baby and yourself. However, there’s nothing quite like nursing a newborn to make even the most confident new mom feel like a complete amateur. New babies can be sleepy, squirmy, and fussy during feeding times, and having sore nipples only makes it harder to feel confident and patient with the learning process.

During the first two weeks breastfeeding, it is normal to have some mild soreness or tenderness in the breasts and/or nipples. The usual reasons for this are three:

  1. your breasts are not used to being used as a food producer, feeding method, and pacifier up to 12 times or more each day.
  2. early feeding sessions are more likely to create soreness, since the baby suckles harder to try to bring down the colostrum. Once there is real milk to reward the baby for his efforts, the suckling becomes more manageable.
  3. mom is more likely to tolerate a less successful latch-on in the early days, while she is learning how to feed, which can cause soreness.

However, if your nipples are extremely sore and cracked, bleeding, bruised or blistered, or if any more than mild soreness lasts for more than about two weeks, it is usually a sign that a deeper latch is needed.


The most important single factor in preventing and resolving sore nipples is to get a deep latch-on with the baby. If you feel the roof of your mouth, and then move back to the soft palace farther back, you can imagine how much more comfortable it is to have your nipple rubbing against the latter and not the former. In order to get a good latch, there are three factors that I think are most important.

  1. POSITIONING. Hold your baby securely for feedings, with the baby’s body aligned (the head is not turned to the side), the baby’s hips flexed, and the head free (in whatever position you choose, make sure that the baby is free to tilt his head back to open his mouth wide). Proper positioning is crucial for newborns to stimulate their reflex to open their mouth wide and draw the nipple far back into their mouth.
  2. ASSYMMETRICAL LATCH. The baby should be held somewhat below the breast level, so that the baby tilts his head back to open wide, and latches onto the underside of the areola first. One trick is to point your nipple at the baby’s nose, and when the baby opens wide and tries to latch on the underside of the areola, flip the nipple into the baby’s mouth. This technique often gets a deeper latch than pointing the nipple straight into the baby’s mouth.

When your latch is good, even if your nipples are sore, you should notice less pain during feedings. Traumatized nipples should heal quickly. If your baby’s suckling hurts like heck for more than just the first minute of feeding, you probably don’t have a deep enough latch. Use your pinky in the corner of the baby’s mouth to take the baby off the breast and try again.


For ordinary soreness, or for increasing the comfort of traumatized nipples while they are healing, the following products are recommended:

  1. Glycerin gel pads can be chilled in the refrigerator, and cut into four pieces each to get the most out of each pad. They feel soothing, promote healing, and protect your nipples from friction while they are sore.
  2. Modified Lanolin nipple ointments. Long the stand-by for treating sore nipples, these ointments are derived from sheep’s wool and purified to remove allergens and contaminants.
  3. Natural nipple salves. For moms who want to avoid animal products and mineral oil, or who don’t like the goopiness of lanolin (or the fact that it can stain your bras), there are natural nipple salves from Earth Mama Angel Baby or MotherLove. These organic salves contain ingredients such as shea butter and calendula to help heal sore nipples, and they are safe in the quantities involved for your baby to ingest.


If you haven’t yet begun breastfeeding, there are some things you can do to minimize the risk of sore nipples.

Don’t bother using nipple creams before your baby is born or before you feel any soreness. Using such products once you do feel tenderness is just as effective as using them from the start, so have them on hand, but save the nipple cream for when (or if!) you need it.

Despite the common misconception that nursing less often is beneficial for preventing soreness, the opposite is truer. Nursing frequently or for long periods, with a proper latch, will not harm your nipples. But less frequent nursing can cause a couple of problems:

  1. Engorgement, leading to latching difficulties. When your breast is engorged with milk and tissues are inflamed, it can be very hard to get the baby latched on correctly.
  2. A very hungry baby who is difficult to latch on correctly without a lot of trauma to the baby, the mother, and the mother’s nipples

So, one way to help prevent sore nipples is to nurse often (at least 8-12 times/day), for as long as the baby wants. And, learn to recognize and respond to your baby’s early feeding cues, so you can feed before your baby is frantic.


If you do not get relief within 48 hours from an improved latch, or if you are unable to obtain a better latch, there may be something more going on, and it would be appropriate to see a Lactation Consultant. There can be many reasons why you and your baby can’t get a good latch, from something simple to the more complex, and a Lactation Consultant can help you get it sorted out.

Why Wear Your Baby?

By Meri Levy, MFT, CLE

Increasing numbers of parents are discovering the joys of “babywearing,” using slings, pouches, wraps and other carriers. How does wearing your baby benefit both baby and caregiver?

Promotes Bonding

Wearing your baby encourages attachment, which is crucial to your baby’s emotional development. Keeping baby close encourages communication between baby and caregivers, and results in a greater sense of trust and security for your baby. Keeping baby close also encourages frequent breastfeeding, which improves the chances of breastfeeding success.

Reduces Crying and Colic

Many studies have shown that babies that are carried more, cry less. Whether your baby is colicky, fussy, or just cranky sometimes, frequent carrying in arms or in a carrier ensures less crying and a more comfortable baby.

Reduces Physical Strain and Allows Freedom of Movement

Using a carrier distributes your baby’s weight better, giving your arms a rest. For parents with carpal tunnel or tendinitis, this is much easier on the arms. And the benefits increase as baby gets older and heavier.

Carriers also allow freedom of movement and the ability to use your hands for something other than carrying your baby. Having a baby may mean feeling like nothing gets done, but having a hand free can mean getting a little more done, while keeping baby happy.

For more information on babywearing, visit the following sites: