The witching hour. Sleep regression. Whatever you call it, early morning wakings can be the bane of any parent’s existence, especially when the alarm is set to sound just an hour or two after your baby begins crying. To better understand why your baby is waking at the literal crack of dawn, you need to understand a little more about humans and sleep.
It’s a chemical thing
You’ve likely heard about melatonin and its involvement in the sleep process, helping to balance circadian rhythms. When it comes to sleep, melatonin is like a warm bath, relaxing us and getting our brains ready to rest. On the flip side, our bodies release the hormone cortisol about three hours before our natural wake time. Cortisol acts as a stimulant and is released during times of stress, but also acts as our body’s way of waking itself up.
What happens in babies
Even with your baby’s cycle of melatonin and cortisol release — which can be working perfectly –, there can be some mishaps. Once your baby’s body begins releasing melatonin in preparation for sleep, there is only a small window of time for your baby to fall asleep. If your baby misses their melatonin window, their tiny body responds by releasing cortisol, which is why you’ll sometimes notice a surge of energy and wakefulness when it’s supposed to be bedtime.
Now that you know how this cycle works, you can better understand the 3 a.m. wake up. Remember that your body begins releasing cortisol three hours before your natural wake time. If your baby’s circadian rhythm puts their natural wake time at 6 a.m., 3 a.m. would be the approximate time that their body stops releasing melatonin and begins to release cortisol. When the release of cortisol corresponds with the end of a sleep cycle, your baby will more than likely wake. However, babies who possess the skills to self-soothe and go back to sleep will wake but eventually drift back to sleep without a fuss — much like we adults do every night. Those babies who haven’t yet developed independent sleep skills, or who rely on a sleep prop, will wake fully and begin crying when they can’t fall back to sleep.
How to fix it
I’m often called by panicked parents who are desperate to “fix” their baby’s sleep problem. If your baby hasn’t developed the skills to sleep independently, and are thus waking early, then nothing is broken, it’s simply not yet learned. This is where the work comes in.
Know that your baby’s sleep isn’t going to be solved overnight, but know that you can take steps each day to help your baby learn how to sleep independently — and soundly.
I can’t say this enough — create an environment conducive to sleep. If you’ve not already, start by making necessary changes to your baby’s nursery. Add blackout curtains or shades to ensure that your baby’s room is nice and dark — perfect for encouraging continual melatonin release through the night. Remove the ceiling projectors and any other bright or shiny items that may stimulate your baby — you want your baby’s nursery to be boring so that they’ll want to sleep.
Finally, make sure that you’re committed to a consistent and predictable sleep schedule. Keeping a consistent sleep routine can better train your baby’s body to work in tandem with their natural circadian rhythm. And most importantly, make sure you’re teaching your baby the skills they need to sleep independently.
If you’re unsure how to teach your baby to sleep independently, give me a call. I offer a free 15-minute evaluation so I can get to know the specifics about your situation, so book a call now.
Google the phrase “sleep regression.” C’mon, I dare you. What do you see? A lot of articles with words like dreaded, survive, beat in the titles. Like anything, something simple can quickly become alarming when put into a negative context — much like sleep regression in babies. The reality is that the four-month sleep regression isn’t a regression at all. How about that?
The word itself is alarming as it typically denotes taking a step back or as the dictionary says, “a return to a former or less developed state.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s take a look.
What sleep regression isn’t
There’s a tendency to label any rough nights (or days) a baby has as a sleep regression, which just isn’t the case. The reality is that babies undergo a tremendous amount of physical, mental and emotional growth and development in their first year of life, which often affects sleep and understandably so. Teething is often the culprit, as are growth spurts and other developmental milestones. It’s happening because your baby is developing and moving forward not backward.
To better understand what is going on with your 4-month old, it helps to have an understanding of sleep, in general. Sleep is comprised of four stages which, when combined, make up the human sleep cycle and is repeated throughout our slumber.
This is the stage when you’re just drifting off, maybe you’re losing your place in your book or your eyes are closing to the sound of the television — stage one is a snoozing stage.
This is the stage that is considered entering into an actual sleep state. If you wake from this second stage, you definitely realize that you’d been sleeping just moments before.
If sleep was a competitive sport, stage three would be just beneath the level of greatness — you want to reach this place, it’s great for your body, but you still have more work to do.
Nirvana. In stage four of the sleep cycle, you hit REM sleep and your brain begins to recoup from the day — this is the state of dreams.
Newborn sleep stages
Your newborn only cycles through two sleep stages for the first few months of their life — stage three and stage four or REM sleep, the two deepest cycles. New parents should take in this time as it’s when their baby will be sleeping the soundest with no outside help.
What happens around month 4
Around month three or four — as your baby is developing — your baby begins to expand their sleep cycles into the four stages. When this happens, your baby transitions from spending half of their sleep time in REM to only a quarter. And with more time spent in lighter sleep stages, there’s more opportunity for your baby to wake.
Where problems arise is when parents see this as a regression in sleep — the reality is that this is the time that your baby is developing and learning how to transition throughout the stages of sleep they’ll be cycling for the remainder of their lives and it’s a big change! There will be a disruption of sorts in the sleep cycle as your baby learns how to smoothly transition between sleep stages. As adults, we typically slide through the sleep stages effortlessly, without even remembering waking between — your baby hasn’t developed that skill yet, which is why they’re waking more at this time.
Remove the props
Up until this time, you may have been swaddling your baby for sleep or using a pacifier to calm them at bedtimes and nap-times. Now that they’re spending more time in a lighter sleep, they’re going to notice that the pacifier has dropped from their mouth when they cycle between stages, or they’ll notice that their little body isn’t wrapped snuggly and their startle reflex may wake them. This is the time when you want to remove sleep props so that your little one doesn’t begin to form sleep associations (that can easily become sleep disruptors).
Create the perfect environment
This is the time you want to perfect your baby’s sleep environment, if you haven’t already. Make sure that the room is cool and dark without any distractions — you want to create a space that allows your baby to focus on transitioning through sleep stages and resting, not becoming alert and wanting to play.
If you reframe how you view what is commonly known as the four-month sleep regression and instead view it as yet another opportunity for your baby to grow, you’ll be in great shape to get through this phase. And if you feel you need support, don’t hesitate to contact me! I offer a free 15-minute evaluation so I can get to know the specifics about your little one’s situation, so book a call now and we can move forward as soon as you’re ready to get your little one sleeping through the night!
Just when it seems you’ve gotten into a comfortable rhythm of morning and afternoon naps, your baby’s sleep behavior begins to change, and you start to wonder what’s causing the disruption. Are you sitting down? The culprit may be that your baby…needs less sleep. There, I said it. It’s entirely possible that the changes you’re witnessing are signs that your baby is ready to transition to one nap a day.
Signs your baby is ready
Before you begin panicking — and I get it, those naptime hours were the times you got to relax a little and focus on things you needed to accomplish — make sure your baby really is ready to transition from two naps to one.
You may find that your baby is completely rocking their morning nap, and then struggling to go down in the afternoon. Or maybe your little one struggles to go down for their afternoon nap two or three days in a row, and then completely conks out for their afternoon nap on the fourth day. The rule of thumb here is that if your baby is struggling to go down for their afternoon nap the majority of the days in a week, it’s a good sign that they’re ready to transition to one nap.
Another sign that your baby is ready to transition to one nap is if they’re rocking both their morning and afternoon naps, and then wide awake when bedtime rolls around. If your baby is taking an hour or more past their usual bedtime to settle into sleep, it’s a good sign that they’re ready to drop a nap.
Because developmental milestones happen often, and can typically cause changes in sleep, you want to make sure that your child’s disrupted sleep pattern lasts at least two weeks before deciding to transition to a single nap per day. While the two week period may be difficult, it’s worth knowing whether or not it’s time to make a change (rather than having to backtrack later). And on that note, once you’re sure your baby’s sleep issues aren’t due to a growth spurt, make sure that you’re committed to transitioning to one nap, because you definitely do not want to waver here — it’s confusing for baby and more work for you — so stick to it.
How to transition to one nap
While the steps to transitioning your baby from two naps to one may look incredibly easy, realize that the transition will happen over time — as much as you may want to, do not rush the process.
Begin by pushing your baby’s morning nap a half hour later every three days, until naptime is at 12:30pm. Know that this transition can take anywhere between 4-6 weeks, so be patient and trust the process. If you don’t rush, you’re more likely to commit to this schedule change, and everyone will be happy.
I know, I know, pushing your baby’s naptime back is no easy feat, now that they’re firmly into a sleep schedule. To make things a little easier, try to avoid going for car rides or walks with the stroller during your baby’s usual naptime, to prevent them from falling asleep (and derailing their transition’s progress). Try engaging your little one in a physical activity during their typical naptime, to try to distract them from their fatigue. If need be, give your baby a piece of fruit to give them just enough pep to make it until their newer, later naptime.
You may also find it helpful to temporarily move up your baby’s bedtime, just until they adjust to their new schedule. Don’t worry if you encounter inconsistencies on your baby’s part along the way, it’s important that you remain consistent, and their little body will follow along shortly.
If you hit a rough spot in your baby’s nap transition, just think of how much freer you’ll be once your baby is down to one, middle-of-the-day nap — it’s so worth it!
If you’re having difficulty transitioning your little one down to one nap a day, feel free to reach out to me to see if you can benefit from my help.
Teething symptoms in babies is much debated — just ask your pediatrician…and then poll your friends. Some pediatricians will say that an elevated temperature is not a sign or symptom of teething, but ask parents of multiple children and they’ll tell you otherwise. A quick internet search will yield results listing a handful of baby teething symptoms, but what you rarely see listed is disturbed sleep patterns.
Timing of teething
Many of my clients often feel that their baby has just gotten the hang of a healthy sleep routine when it’s suddenly derailed. And if this sleep regression happens between the ages of 4 and 7 or 8 months, teething typically gets the blame.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — a good source of answers to all of your baby questions — does concede that teething in babies may be accompanied by some not-so-fun side effects; it’s interesting to note that their listing of signs and symptoms of teething is preceded by the following statement: “Teething occasionally may cause….” Notice the word in italics. The reality of many parents with teething babies is much different than an occasional symptom or associated discomfort, and you’ve likely experienced anecdotes from both sides — not a single symptom or side-effect, or a completely miserable, drooling baby.
The AAP’s official stance is that teething may — occasionally — cause and/ or be accompanied by mild irritability and crying in your baby (no surprise there because, ouch.). Your baby may also exhibit a low grade temperature — not exceeding 101 degrees Fahrenheit — excessive drooling, a desire to chew on something hard, and have swollen, tender gums.
Teething and sleep
What the AAP doesn’t mention is that your baby’s sleep may be disrupted during this uncomfortable period. It stands to reason that, if your baby is experiencing the uncomfortable symptoms associated with teething, those symptoms won’t simply disappear during naptime and nighttime. And, as any good parent does, you want to do whatever you can to take away any of your baby’s pain or discomfort, by any means possible. Am I right?
The truth is that teething can disrupt your baby’s sleep, but it can also derail any progress you’ve made with sleep training, if you suddenly decide to run in at the sound of the first wimper. Now, I’m not saying you should leave your baby to cry when they’re in pain, but you shouldn’t use teething as an excuse to fall back into bad sleep habits, either.
According to a Parents.com article, parents may give their baby Tylenol to help reduce teething pain. However, the article warns that, while teething can cause sleep disruptions, a change in behavior — a disinterest in playing or inability to be distracted — can be a sign of something other than teething. In essence, teething isn’t so painful that your baby should be crying incessantly; if this is the case, you need to call your pediatrician.
As you would at any other time, give your baby some time to calm themself when they awake from sleep crying. I’m not saying to completely ignore a baby in distress, but don’t disregard the pause just because your baby is teething. Allowing your baby to work through the discomfort and self-soothe will ensure that they’re getting the sleep they need for their growing body, tooth buds and all!
Is your little one having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep and you are sure it’s more than teething? Let’s chat! Please reach out to me! Visit me HERE and get in touch for a complimentary sleep assessment.
Stop putting it off. I mean this in the nicest of ways, but if you keep saying you’ll get around to getting baby to sleep better, the reality is that you’re putting off the inevitable. And if your baby isn’t sleeping well, the longer you wait to make changes to their sleep routine, the harder those changes will be to make. In an effort to make things super easy for you, I’m throwing out four easy tips for getting baby to sleep better, that you can implement today. I mean, why do it tomorrow if you can do it today, right?
Tips for getting baby to sleep better
Keep it dark
Have you ever tried sleeping in the middle of the day? Unless you’ve outfitted your room, or are sneaking down to the basement for a quick nap, you’re going to be met with sunlight streaming in through the windows. Darkness is where it’s at, and as soon as you create a dark environment, the sooner your baby will understand that bedtime or naptime is coming.
Blackout shades or blinds are the easiest, and most inexpensive, fixes for a bright room; if you’re installing blinds, it’s imperative that you have them cut exact, or else you’ll have tiny beams of light cutting through the room like little lasers.
One thing many parents don’t think of is the light of the television or other electronics. Electronic screens emit blue light, which serves to keep baby (and you) alert and awake, opposite of your desired effect. The body needs darkness to trigger the release of melatonin, which aids in sleep, so turn off the electronics, or move to another room, at least an hour before baby’s bedtime.
Keep it cool
If you’re anything like me, your sinuses get dry and you become stuffy in the winter, when household heat is running constantly. And when I can’t breathe well, I don’t sleep well — it’s no different for babies. That feeling of snuggling into the warmth of your covers, body covered from the cool air of the room? So cozy! And babies love it, too.
Not only do babies sleep best in a cooler room — ideally between 65 and 70 degrees — it’s also safer for them. A hot room can increase your baby’s risk of SIDS, so keep the heat down and use a sleep sack or layered onesie to keep your baby core temperature up, making them comfortable while they sleep.
Keep it boring
Take a look around your nursery. Do you have bright prints on the walls? Maybe a mobile above the crib or hanging from the ceiling. How about one of those super cool, light-up faux aquariums that attach to the side of the crib? The reality is that all of these things are wonderful for stimulating your little one’s mind, but terrible for a quiet, comfortable sleep environment.
Instead, use your playroom, or a nook in your living room to create an area of stimulation for your baby, and try to keep all of the bright colors, lights and toys out of your nursery. Without much to look at, or play with, your baby will do what they’re meant to do in the nursery — sleep.
If you don’t already have one, consider adding a white noise machine to your nursery, to filter out the background noise of household activity or environmental noise. If you have other children, a white noise machine can be your baby’s sleep savior!
Keep it predictable
Think about how you perform when you have a set routine — you may even already practice a nightly bedtime routine. The truth is, babies respond extremely well with a consistent bedtime routine because they’re able to pick up on the cues.
Once you’ve taken them into the quiet of their nursery, perhaps reading them a book by a soft light, or giving them a warm bath, your baby starts to produce melatonin. Your baby’s body begins to relax, knowing that slumber is imminent, and they’re ready to welcome sleep.
While these tips for getting baby to sleep better are simple, and easy enough to begin implementing today, know that it will take some time for your baby to adjust to the changes. If you stay consistent, both you and your baby will reap the rewards of a healthy, restful night of sleep.
Take a look at nights in your household. Are you and your partner sharing nighttime duty equally, or is one of you the go-to person for nighttime wake-ups, while other partner sleeps soundly and pinch-hits on occasion? If the latter is the case, don’t worry, it’s completely normal and I see it all of the time with the families I work with. However, today I’m going to talk about what we can do to get both of you on a level playing field with your baby’s sleep routine.
Before we get into the debate about dads and the term “babysitting,” I want to clarify that “partner” means “other party,” as in, the partner not most actively involved in baby’s nighttime wakings. In my experience, babies waking throughout the night typically are relying on external sleep props, and most often the sleep prop in question is nursing; this obviously leaves out dads.
When nursing is used as a sleep prop, moms are often up and down throughout the night, shuffling between the bedroom and the nursery, or between the bed and the crib. When this is happening multiple times throughout the night, mom begins feeling the effects of the constant sleep disruptions, and baby is being deprived of the skills they need to be able to navigate, on their own, between sleep cycles.
After time, mom may become resentful, after waking for the umpteenth time during the night, listening to the sounds of their partner enjoying a restful night of sleep. And those middle-of-the-night nursing sessions can be brutal, not only because of the frequency and how disruptive they are to mom’s sleep, but because of how the mind wanders in those quiet, nighttime nursing moments. I can’t tell you how many times sleep deprived moms have confided in me about a deep resentment and frustration — even anger — with their partners, because they, alone, are in charge of nighttime wakings (while dads get to sleep through the night).
If you’re one of those moms, know that you’re not alone, but also know that so many of those dads feel helpless as well. In fact, many of those dads are incredibly supportive, but at a loss for ways they can help, apart from waking with their wives and keeping them company throughout the night — while this is sweet, it just means that both partners will suffer the effects of disrupted sleep, and that’s not good for anyone in the family.
Well, I’m here to tell you that sleep training can change your nighttime dynamics. No, seriously. You see, sleep training often goes smoother when the dad takes charge. Dads don’t have milk to offer, which babies realize, so this often is the key to breaking the association between nursing and sleep. When dads respond to babies’ calls in the night, they quickly learn to fall asleep independently. Dads get to become the heroes, and moms get to enjoy nights of uninterrupted sleep — everyone wins!
Take this former client, for example. She and her husband turned to me for help, with an 8 ½ month old baby boy who didn’t nap and was up multiple times throughout the night. The mom hadn’t had more than three hours of uninterrupted sleep since the baby had been born and was at her wits-end with fatigue. I quickly stepped in and ordered the mom to a different floor in the house, leaving dad to nighttime duty. This is what she had to say:
Before Jennifer came in to help us, I was delirious with sleep. After I forgot to buckle our son’s car seat into the car — for the second time — I knew that my lack of sleep had become dangerous, and it was time to do something about it.
When Jennifer told us that I would not be handling nighttime duties, my husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like not having to wake with my son throughout the night; my husband was definitely on-board and wanted to help however he could, but he couldn’t believe that our son could sleep through the night, either.
The first night of sleep training, both my son and I slept through the night. I would have slept longer, except my breasts were about to burst after six, glorious hours of uninterrupted sleep! My husband reported only two night wakings, both of which lasted less than five minutes before our son went back to sleep. Without me rushing in to nurse, he was able to navigate himself back to sleep, and I was able to reclaim precious hours of sleep myself.
Letting dad take the lead may be just what you need to get you and your baby into healthy sleep routines, but you have to be willing to let your husband step in. I’ll give him instructions for what to do throughout the night, while you just need to keep yourself sequestered and sleeping.
If you’re ready to take back your nights, give me a call so that we can discuss the best plan of action for your family!
Whether you’ve been trying to conceive for a long time, or discovered you were unexpectedly…expecting, at some point your thoughts have turned to the nursery. What room to use, what crib should you pick out, bedding, decor, and then maybe, just maybe, you thought about something practical, such as a changing station (but not likely). If you want to save yourself some time, and some sleepless hours, you’ll follow my advice for creating the perfect nursery — and it has nothing to do with matching paint chips with potential themes.
Skip the fun stuff
I know, I know, you’ve always wanted to create a bright, colorful, themed nursery, and you have the Pinterest board to prove it. And while that nursery will likely photograph really well and look like a lively and happy place to be, it’s counterintuitive to your baby getting healthy sleep.
Call me the fun police or a spoilsport, but the reality is that those nurseries with colorful characters, decorations and hanging mobiles only serve to provide stimulation, instead of a calm and restful atmosphere. Try to keep your baby’s nursery walls free from bright and/ or busy prints (blank walls are ideal), and keep to a muted color scheme, to ensure that your baby isn’t scanning the walls and decorations when they’re supposed to be sleeping. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of opportunities to decorate your little one’s bedroom in the future.
Perhaps one of the best investments you can make for your baby’s nursery, and likely one of the only items in there that will stay, long after the toddler years are gone, are blackout curtains, blinds or shades.
How well are you able to sleep with daylight pouring through the window? Probably not so well without a sleeping mask, but unfortunately, your baby doesn’t have that option. Creating a dark room for your baby will help them fall asleep without a lot of fuss, especially for those daytime naps and lengthy summer daylight hours. Your baby is already comfortable in the dark, having spent ten months in your wonderfully dark womb, so creating a sleep environment that mimics that is ideal.
The cooler the better
Not only do babies sleep best in a cooler room — ideally between 65 and 70 degrees — it’s also safer for them. A hot room can increase your baby’s risk of SIDS, so keep the room cool and use a sleep sack or onesie to keep your baby comfortable while they sleep.
Think Princess and the Pea
Just like the princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fairy tale, your baby won’t be able to sleep well if they’re uncomfortable, and remember, they sleep most of the day. Put the money you’d planned to spend on nursery decorations towards a comfortable and safe crib mattress. For safety reasons, your baby’s mattress should be firm, as soft mattresses can pose a suffocation risk.
While you may be disappointed by your lack of nursery flair, I guarantee you’ll thank me once you bring your baby home and they’re sleeping soundly. If you’re unsure about your baby’s nursery, or have concerns about your little one’s sleep, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Twice a year, parents around the country groan in solidarity. No, it’s not summer and winter break, but close: Daylight Saving Time. Who knew that an hour, a simple hour, could throw off even the most organized of people’s schedules? What does this mean for your child’s sleep? Well, I’m sharing some daylight saving time sleep tips to help you and your little one(s) make the transition smoothly.
Before I share some of my daylight saving time sleep tips, I thought I’d give you a little history lesson about the little time change that often affects our lives in a big way.
Germany was the first country to institute daylight saving time in 1916, as a way to conserve fuel during World War I. The United States eventually followed suit in 1918, but was followed inconsistently. Can you imagine what it was like to travel between time zones? You would constantly need to ask for the time, just to sync your own watch to the local time observance!
President Franklin Roosevelt made daylight saving time official in 1942. Called “War Time”, year-round observance of daylight saving time again became inconsistent, as localities were not mandated to follow under federal law. A confused transportation industry pushed to have daylight saving time regulated by the federal government, and the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was passed. However, states could exempt themselves as long as the entire state observed the exemption. Confused yet?
Today, all but two states, Arizona and Hawaii, observe daylight saving time by setting their clocks forward one hour the second Sunday in March, and one hour back the first Sunday in November. Lasting 34 weeks each year, daylight saving time’s twice yearly time changes manage to upend people’s schedules every change.
Daylight Saving Time Sleep Tips
Whether you’re springing forward or falling back, daylight saving time can throw a wrench in your child’s seemingly flawless sleep schedule, so I’m sharing some daylight saving time sleep tips to keep everyone in sync.
Split the difference
Ease your child into her new schedule by splitting the time difference. Adjust nap times and bed time to be a half hour earlier or later (fall back, spring forward) for three days following the change. On the fourth day, put your child down at the same times you usually would, but know that it can take about a week for your child’s body to adapt to the time change.
Hide the Time
For toddler age and older children who have digital clocks in their room, put a piece of tape over the minute area on their clock. This way your child will see the hour, but not the minutes (which may confuse them with the time change and earlier/later bedtime to adapt).
Bide Your Time
If you have a baby, they are going to take a little more coaxing to adjust. If your baby wakes and hour earlier than usual, say 5am instead of 6am, resist rushing into the room when she first cries. Wait until ten after the first day, twenty after the following day, and then 6:30 the third day. By the end of the week, your baby’s schedule should be adjusted to the new time and she’ll be waking up at her usual hour.
Hang in there, remain consistent, and if all else fails, schedule a call with me to see how we can get your little one back on track!
If you’ve stumbled upon this blog because you’re wondering if you and your baby can co-sleep and sleep train, it’s probable that something just isn’t working for you. If something’s not working for your baby’s (or your own) sleep habits, my job as a pediatric sleep specialist is to help you find what works. And if you’re not ready to make some major changes, you’re not going to like what I have to say. The short answer is that no, you can not co-sleep with your baby and sleep train.
Notice that I didn’t say that room sharing was off-limits. I’ll get to that later, but right now, I want to address bed-sharing and sleep training. Co-sleeping is a personal decision, and I work with families with all types of sleeping arrangements — my job is to address concerns and come up with solutions that work for both parents and babies. I find that those co-sleeping families who contact me are looking for one of two solutions; they either want to transition their child from their bed, or they simply want their little one to sleep better while bed sharing.
If you’re looking to transition your child from your bed, I can definitely help your little one make a smooth transition. My approach to moving your little one out of your bed, and into their own, is tailored to your family’s needs. I take a look at your baby’s existing sleep habits, their personality and temperament, and come up with a personalized plan to make your baby’s transition, from your bed to their own, work for the entire family.
Co-sleeping and sleep associations
Those of you who came to this article through an internet search, in hopes of finding a way to better streamline your baby’s sleep habits while bed sharing, are not ready for my assistance — and that’s fine! When you are ready to transition your baby out of your bed, give me a call and I’ll be more than happy to help.
But now you’re probably wondering why I can’t help you now. Let me explain.
The majority of my co-sleeping clients bed share because there is an established breastfeeding relationship. Co-sleeping makes mother’s breast accessible throughout the night, and as a result, the breast becomes a sleep prop or a sleep association. This means that each time your baby wakes at the end of a sleep cycle, they head right to the breast — hungry or not — to soothe themself back to sleep. The longer that association remains, the more difficult it is for your baby to be able to transition between sleep cycles on their own.
Think about it. You, perhaps unknowingly, have sleep strategies you employ when you wake in the night. Maybe you shift positions, re-adjust your pillow or blankets, or maybe you take a quick drink of water. Whatever it is that you do to get yourself comfortable enough to go back to sleep can be likened to your baby’s need to nurse themself back to sleep. And in order to break the association between nursing and sleep, your breast needs to be inaccessible to them.
Room sharing as an alternative
Remember when I said I didn’t rule out room sharing? While not ideal, those parents who strongly desire to stay in close proximity to their baby can set up a crib in their room, or attach a sidecar to their bed (but a sidecar may make it even more difficult to break the breast-sleep association). The most important thing is that you’re happy with your sleeping arrangements.
I will leave you with this — the longer a sleep habit persists, the more difficult it is to change. And the longer your child shares your bed, the more difficult it will be to get them to sleep on their own. But when they do make that transition, they’ll acquire the sleep skills they need to have independent, healthier, sounder sleep, which is especially important during the formative years.
If you’re ready to make a change, or are simply wondering if a sleep consultant is right for you, contact me to set up a complimentary 15-minute phone sleep assessment by clicking HERE.
BONUS: Did you catch my interview today with Jim Masters of CUTV. If not, take a listen HERE.
Raising kids is a high-stakes responsibility, and in this age of social media and easy access to information about anything and everything, parents are easily overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. As a sleep consultant, I see this all the time from parents whose babies aren’t sleeping well. One of the other major contributors to the, “I’m doing something wrong,” sensation is separation anxiety; that oh-so-challenging part of a child’s life when they start to completely flip their lids whenever Mom’s not around.
The thought process, it would appear is one of…
Mommy’s not in the
Therefore, Mommy is somewhere
I would prefer to be there with
Make that happen, or mark my words, I shall raise the most unimaginable of And those ruckuses leave us, as parents, to wonder, “Am I doing something wrong?
After all, a well-adjusted child should probably feel reasonably safe when they’re separated from their parents for a little while, shouldn’t they? I mean, Beth from the office says her baby is perfectly content being left with her sitter, even overnight. And that one mom in your Facebook group said that her baby will happily play by herself for hours at a time, and actually takes her toys to her room occasionally in order to get a little ‘me’ time.”
About Separation Anxiety: Two things to keep in mind.
First, never compare yourself, or your child, to the mothers and babies described in the parenting groups on social media. Much like everything else on Facebook and Instagram, these experiences are almost always conveyed through the rosiest of lenses.
And second, separation anxiety is completely normal, expected, and a sign of a healthy attachment between parent and child.
So what is it, exactly?
Separation anxiety typically starts to occur around 6-8 months of age, when your little one starts to realize that things continue to exist, even when they’re not in sight. It’s a cognitive milestone known as “object permanence” which is defined as, “the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed.”
In other words, out of sight no longer means out of mind.
So as your baby begins to grasp this concept, they realize that if you, their favorite person in the whole world, are not there, you’re elsewhere. And, hey, wait a minute. If that’s the case, then you might not be coming back.
It’s kind of fascinating when you think about it, but it’s also a little heartbreaking. This realization, for a baby, is obviously cause for full-blown panic. The thought of a parent leaving and not returning causes anxiety in most grown-ups I know, so you can hardly expect an infant to take it with great decorum.
Anyways, that’s what happens in your little one’s brain when they suddenly start having a fit every time you leave the room. It’s normal, it’s natural, and it’s a sign that your little one is learning, and that they have a secure attachment to their parent. Awesome.
But, as many of us know, it also means that leaving them with a sitter or dropping them off at day care can be an absolute horror show.
But what we really want to know, or at least what I really wanted to know when it happened with my children, isn’t “What’s causing this?” What I wanted to know was, “How do I prevent it?”
Well, the truth is, you probably wouldn’t want to if you could. I mean, really, wouldn’t you be just a little devastated if you left your child with a stranger and they were just completely OK with it? “Bye Mom! See you at dinner!
Don’t worry about me. You guys have fun!”
I’m guessing that would actually be significantly more troubling than some tears and howling.
But we obviously want to keep things at a happy medium, and if you’re struggling with a child who’s pitching an absolute fit every time you try to run an errand or head out for date night, I’ve got some suggestions to take the edge off until this phase runs its course.
1. Lead by Example
Your little one follows your cues, so if you’re not willing to let her out of your sight, they probably, albeit un- consciously, feel like they’re not safe if you’re not in the room. So designate a room where they can explore a little and play without your direct supervision. It’s a small adjustment, but it has a tremendous effect.
2. Don’t Avoid It
Learning about separation and reunion is an important milestone, so don’t just take the path of least resistance and stay with your child 24/7 until they’re seven years old. (It happens. Believe me.) Let them know that it’s okay for them to get upset when you leave and reassure them that you’ll always come back when you do. If there are some tears around it, that’s alright. This is an important concept that they need to get on board with.
3. Start Slow
Once your little one has started to demonstrate the understanding that they’ll be spending some time with someone besides a parent, make it a short outing. Don’t plan on dinner and a movie or an overnighter for the first few attempts.
4. Start With Someone Familiar
Kids typically do a little better being left with a grandparent or family friend who they’ve already spent some time with, and who they’ve grown to trust a little, so call in a favor, put some wine in the fridge, and plan to spend at least an hour away from the house for the first few attempts.
5. Stick Around for a While
After your sitter, parent, friend, or whoever is watching your little one arrives, plan to hang around for a half hour or so. Seeing that this is someone you’re familiar with will go a long way in reassuring your child that they’re “good people” and worthy of their trust.
6. Face the Music
Many of us have, at least once, attempted to distract our toddlers and then sneak out the door without saying goodbye. After all, it’s the goodbye that provokes the reaction, right? But even if it provokes some tears, it’s important for your child to understand that you’re going to leave sometimes, and that you’ll be back when you say you will.
7. Establish a Routine
Much like bedtime, a solid, predictable goodbye routine helps your little one recognize and accept the situation. A set number of kisses and hugs, a memorable key phrase, and a clear indication of when you’ll be back should be just the right balance of short and reassuring.
8. Speak in Terms They’ll Understand
Instead of telling them how long you’ll be gone, tell them when you’ll be back in regards to their schedule. After nap time, before bed, after dinner, before bath time, and so on.
Nothing is going to prevent your child from getting a little bit upset when you leave, (And as I said before, thank the stars for that, because if they didn’t, oh your poor heart,) but you can definitely keep the fuss to a minimum.
Now, I should add here that these techniques are suggested for kids who are dealing with ordinary, everyday separation anxiety. There is also a condition called Separation Anxiety Disorder which is obviously more serious and warrants a trip to your pediatrician if you suspect your little one might be afflicted with it.
But for run-of-the-mill fit-pitching when you try to leave the house for an hour or two, these tips should go a long way towards remedying the problem. Be consistent, supportive, assertive, and calm. Before long, your child will understand the concept of you leaving and coming back.
In fact, this concept that will also come in handy when you start to leave them alone in high school.
“I’m leaving for the night, but rest assured, I’m coming back. So you just remember that before you invite your rowdy friends over.”
But until then, if you feel like your little one’s separation anxiety has led to some not so great sleep habits…I’m here to help. A FREE Sleep Assessment call is just a click away. SCHEDULE A CALL WITH JENNIFER