The first five years of a child’s life are explosive in terms of their overall development and will set the stage for the person they will become. By age three, your toddler’s brain is 80% the size of an adult’s and reaches 90% of its potential size at age five. According to First Things First, “The early years are the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults. The connections needed for many important, higher-level abilities like motivation, self-regulation, problem solving and communication are formed in these early years – or not formed.”
Healthy Sleep Habits
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: attachment parenting and sleep training are not mutually exclusive. Nope. And this may surprise some of you, but sleep training does not require you to leave your babies to cry themselves to sleep. Shocking, isn’t it? Sleep training is all about giving your baby the tools to sleep independently — which sounds at odds with attachment parenting, I know — in the sense that babies learn to go to sleep without a sleep crutch. You might even consider sleep your child’s first step towards independence.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely practicing attachment parenting in some form or another. Many parents I encounter don’t subscribe to all tenets of attachment parenting, but pick and choose the elements that work best for their family and beliefs.
Dr. Sears and attachment parenting
Popularized by William and Martha Sears, attachment parenting at its most basic involves being as close and as responsive as one can to their baby and its needs; and by having its needs met consistently a baby will grow into a well-adjusted, happy, healthy member of society. Attachment parenting materializes in the form of wearing your baby, breastfeeding on-demand, bed-sharing and responding to your baby’s cries immediately.
I’m not going to enter into a debate about parenting philosophies, except to say that I’m a neutral party here. The reality is that there is no evidence showing that attachment parenting is any better than other parenting philosophies — it merely aligns better with what some parents desire for their children.
Therefore, this blog is aimed at those parents who are in need of help with their baby’s sleeping habits, but feel conflicted; many of my attachment parenting clients share that they think that they’re “cheating” by utilizing sleep training. Look, who cares what it is as long as everyone in the family is sleeping healthily? No one needs to be a martyr here.
The Seven B’s
Dr. Sears was helpful enough to provide a bulleted list of main principles of attachment parenting that he termed, “The Seven B’s.” The Seven B’s include: Birth Bonding, Breastfeeding, Babywearing, Bedding close to baby, Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry, Beware of baby trainers, and Balance.
Original attachment parenting concepts
I would, however, like to point out that the original tenets of attachment parenting were not so rigid. In fact, an Atlantic article points out that the originators of attachment parenting theory — psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby– glossed over breastfeeding and never mentioned co-sleeping. What Ainsworth and Bowlby emphasized was the importance of a mother being engaged with her baby while feeding it, not whether the baby was fed by breast or by a bottle, and that “a mother’s attention does make a difference.” The Atlantic article also points out that sleep and babywearing were never mentioned in the original attachment parenting discussion.
Where the uncertainty stems from
So, we know that babywearing, co-sleeping, and breastfeeding weren’t explicitly mentioned by the originators of attachment parenting theory, which makes the following quote from the Ask Dr. Sears site a bit outrageous:
Attachment parenting teaches you how to be discerning of advice, especially those rigid and extreme parenting styles that teach you to watch a clock or a schedule instead of your baby; you know, the cry-it-out crowd. This “convenience” parenting is a short-term gain, but a long-term loss, and is not a wise investment. These more restrained styles of parenting create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child.
The above quote is in response to the Beware of baby trainers ‘B’ and is a little out there; anytime a philosophy doesn’t allow for anything to stray into the gray area, I question it. Just as every baby is different, every baby’s needs are different, and a baby that isn’t sleeping well needs a little assistance to get there. Helping your baby develop healthy sleep skills and habits does not “create a distance between you and your baby and keep you from becoming an expert in your child.” In fact, you noticing that your baby is having issues sleeping, and teaching your baby sleep skills, means that you are an expert in your child.
If it ain’t broke…
Look, if your family is bedsharing and everyone is sleeping well, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re co-sleeping and your partner is now taking up residence on the couch in the other room, while you struggle to stay awake during the day from frequent night feedings and wake-ups, I’d say that bedsharing isn’t working for you and it may be time to consider other options. And one of those options is teaching your baby healthy sleep habits, which includes learning how to fall asleep independently.
The reality is that you cannot bedshare and teach your baby healthy sleep skills. Think about it, teaching babies to fall asleep independently isn’t feasible when mom is in arms’ reach at all times. And if you’re not ready to sleep in separate rooms, room sharing is a viable option for sleep training.
But the crying…
Again, sleep training does NOT require you to leave your baby to cry until they fall asleep. I do suggest giving your baby a few minutes to see if they can fall back to sleep on their own. But, the idea that sleep training requires parents to close the door at bedtime and leave their little ones until the next morning, regardless of the intensity or duration of their crying, is preposterous and, frankly, not at all accurate.
I hope I’ve alleviated any concerns you may have about sleep training and practicing attachment parenting. If you have further questions, or would like to talk about how I can help your family achieve healthy sleep, give me a call!
Parenting can be a sensitive topic, and the advice is not in short supply. From the time you celebrate your baby shower to your first visitors in the hospital, you’re bombarded with “advice” on how to parent your baby. And likely, from the moment your baby is born, you’ll be asked how your baby is sleeping, even before your baby has had an opportunity to find their rhythm. So, as an ode to all of the awful and unsolicited advice new parents receive, I’m going to discuss five common myths about sleep training.
Your first week or two of being a parent inevitably blessed you with the most beautiful, peaceful baby who slept most of the hours in the day. You likely didn’t heed the advice of well-meaning friends and family who told you to sleep when your baby slept and took in every moment of your adorable sleeping beauty. And then your baby flipped days and nights and began to be awake more. Now you panicked and began scouring the internet for suggestions on how to get your baby to a.) sleep at night (like the rest of the human world), and b.) sleep longer. And in the process surfing the web for information, and checking out books on baby sleep, and getting well-meaning advice from friends, family, and strangers, you discovered that the wealth of information you were being given was conflicting, making you more confused than when you first began your research. Take a deep breath, put the bad advice, books, notes, printouts, and bookmarks aside and read on while I debunk common myths about sleep training.
1. If you let your baby sleep too much during the day, it will keep them up at night.
Unlikely, but it does occur on a rare occasion. Now, if your little one is sleeping through the day and not getting a wink of sleep at night, you may need to take a look at daytime napping, but again, “sleeping too much” is rarely the case. In fact, newborns need a lot of sleep, and I don’t recommend that your baby be awake for more than 2-2 1/2 hours at a time if they’re under six months of age. For newborns, that number is closer to 45 minutes to an hour.
You might be surprised to hear that overtiredness often keeps babies awake at night because it goes against what we think we know about sleep. The reality is that an overtired baby has missed falling asleep when they were tired, and their bodies are cycling back into wakefulness.
2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.
Yes-ish. Everyone cycles through sleep stages through the night, waking and falling back asleep each night. You likely don’t remember waking because you already know how to slip right back into your next sleep cycle. However, babies can take some time to learn how to smoothly transition between sleep cycles.
If you’re in the habit of nursing or rocking your baby to sleep, your little one can become dependent on that motion or routine to fall asleep — we’ll call it a sleep crutch. As your baby cycles through sleep stages during the night, they wake and don’t know how to get themselves back to sleep without being nursed or rocked, so they cry out for you. Part of sleep training is teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently.
3. Babies will naturally dictate their sleep schedule.
In a perfect world, babies would regulate their own sleep needs and always be well-rested; unfortunately, this is not the case. Much like the constant care babies need with diapers and feeding, they rely on their caregivers to help them develop healthy sleep habits. Left unregulated, babies’ sleep cycles would become erratic; missing a sleep cycle by just 30 minutes can cause cortisol levels to elevate which is when we experience cranky babies who are overtired.
4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.
This is just not true. In fact, you may have consulted the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for information about safe sleep practices, a source I’m sure you trust. Well, a 2016 study conducted by the AAP found that “Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” And, both parents and babies slept better through the night — win-win!
5. Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
Babies don’t come with manuals, so I’m not sure who dictated what babies are or are not “designed” for — sheesh! What I can tell you is that trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits or their behavior is a recipe for disaster.
Look, you’re obviously reading this for a reason — most likely because you’d like your baby to sleep better. I’m here to tell you that I can help you and your baby develop healthy, independent sleep habits that will have the entire family getting restful nights of sleep. When you’re ready to get started, give me a call to see how I can work with your family to guide you to healthy sleep.
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!
While digital tech was invented to be a time saver and tool of efficiency, and it is, research is showing how excessive media access is eating away at quality time and creating health habits that are inefficient for growing children. And while those electronic devices are having a myriad of negative affects on our little ones, I want to focus on some recent findings about screen time and sleep.
Screens and sleep research findings
Now that tablets and smartphones have been around for a decade, studies are beginning to release reports on the very real ways screen time is affecting our children’s sleep habits.
We know how important the role of sleep is for healthy child development — from infants to preschoolers (and beyond) — which is why it surprises me that companies are now developing and marketing apps to babies as young as six months old! The earlier screens and mobile electronic devices are introduced, the greater the effects of screen time on our children’s health and well-being.
Study after study has reiterated how important the role of sleep is to the cognitive development of children, especially in the first two years. Per Scientific Reports:
…reduced sleep duration in the first two years of life may have long-term consequences on later developmental outcomes. These findings are mirrored by several follow-up studies in children and adolescents, showing significant associations between sleep difficulties or irregular bedtime and later problems with mental and physical health and lower cognitive and academic performance.
For example, a study published in Scientific Reports found that extending down the age of screen time exposure, to infants and toddlers, correlated with disrupted sleep in those babies. The study followed babies, ranging in age from six to thirty-six months old, and their interactions with mobile electronic devices, such as tablets or smartphones. The findings are eye-opening, pertaining to those infants and toddlers with daily screen use, finding that the amount of overall sleep lost by babies 6-36 months old, per hour of screen time use (over maximum guidelines), amounted to 15.6 minutes. Wow.
In addition, a review of over five dozen studies, targeting children ages 5 through 17, found that “more screen time is associated with delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality.”
So what exactly are the recommended screen time guidelines? Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), screen time recommendations are as follows:
- For children under 18 months old, screen time should be limited to video chatting
- Children 18-24 months should only be exposed to high-quality media, with parents watching alongside to help them understand and engage with what they’re watching
- Children 2-5 years old should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming; again, parents should watch along with them to help them make real world connections
- Children 6 years and older should have established and consistent limits on the time spent using media, with parents ensuring that digital media doesn’t take the place of sleep, physical activity or real-life personal interactions
Strategies for managing screens and sleep
I think the first step to managing screen time in your home is paying attention to your own habits, in addition to those of other household members. Take a look at what those apps geared towards babies and toddlers are teaching, and replicate those activities with physical play, blocks and flashcards. As tempting as it may seem (we all need a bathroom break), make sure that you’re supervising all screen time activity with your little ones, and engage your child as they interact with media. And most importantly, for both you and your child, shut off devices (this includes the television) at least an hour prior to bedtime, to reduce blue light exposure. Lastly, for those of you with older children, make sure that mobile devices and screen electronics do not go into the bedroom at night.
Safe sleep guidelines is a topic that I never tire of sharing, and it’s important to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) research-backed suggestions. The AAP recently revised their safe sleep guidelines, and I thought it would be great to take a moment to share those with you, as well as to take a look at how those guidelines have changed over the years.
Back is best
In 1992, the AAP instructed parents to lie their infants on their backs to sleep, which resulted in an overall decrease in the occurrences of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) across the country. But while SIDS deaths decreased, infant death by suffocation, entrapment and asphyxia rose, prompting the AAP to revisit and further explain their safe sleep guidelines.
What is a safe sleep environment?
The American Academy of Pediatrics again changed their safe sleep guidelines in 2011, this time with an emphasis on the explanation and demonstration of safe sleep environments for infants. The AAP made three additional safe sleep recommendations, to reduce the overall occurrence of infant deaths, including SIDS related deaths. Those recommendations included:
- Breastfeeding is recommended and is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS.
- Infants should be immunized. Evidence suggests that immunization reduces the risk of SIDS by 50 percent.
- Bumper pads should not be used in cribs. There is no evidence that bumper pads prevent injuries, and there is a potential risk of suffocation, strangulation or entrapment.
Further recommendations included:
- Always place your baby on his or her back for every sleep time.
- Always use a firm sleep surface. Car seats and other sitting devices are not recommended for routine sleep.
- The baby should sleep in the same room as the parents, but not in the same bed (room-sharing without bed-sharing).
- Keep soft objects or loose bedding out of the crib. This includes pillows, blankets, and bumper pads.
- Wedges and positioners should not be used.
- Pregnant woman should receive regular prenatal care.
- Don’t smoke during pregnancy or after birth.
- Breastfeeding is recommended.
- Offer a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
- Avoid covering the infant’s head or overheating.
- Do not use home monitors or commercial devices marketed to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- Infants should receive all recommended vaccinations.
- Supervised, awake tummy time is recommended daily to facilitate development and minimize the occurrence of positional plagiocephaly (flat heads).
So, what’s different between 2011’s AAP safe sleep guidelines and those recently released? The AAP now recommends that infants share the same bedroom as their parents, or room share, for at least the first six months of an infant’s life, and ideally, the first year. This comes as a result of new research findings, showing a decrease in sleep-related infant deaths in those infants room-sharing with their parents. The AAP also included the recommendation of immediate skin-to-skin time after birth, regardless of feeding or birth type, for a minimum of one hour, as soon as the mother is “medically stable and awake.”
Breastfeeding is still recommended, and the AAP urges parents to move babies to their [separate] sleep space as soon as feeding is completed, to further reduce the risk of accidental death [should a mother or father fall asleep while holding the baby].
While these recommendations are not hugely different from what they have been, they do further explain ideal safe sleep conditions, back by research showing a reduced rate of infant mortality. In addition, AAP is urging doctors to have more in-depth conversations about infant sleep environments with new and expecting parents, in an effort to communicate ideal safe sleep environments and field any questions parents may have.
If you have any questions about your baby’s sleep environment, I am available to review and make recommendations for the safest sleep environment for your little one.
I talk about sleep a lot. Here on my blog, with family, friends, clients and colleagues — sleep is a never ending topic of conversation, as it should be given my career! However, I was just telling a former client that we, as parents, spend so much of our time wishing our children would sleep, and when it’s not an appropriate time to sleep, we bend over backwards to keep our child awake. Am I right? Strange, isn’t it?
I’m going to take a break from talking about children and sleep today. I know, I know, you came here because you’re anxious to have your child develop healthy sleep habits, but did you know that wakefulness, at the right times, can help your little one sleep better?
For those of you who have been with me for a while, you know how important routine is in helping children develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. And if your kiddo has healthy sleep habits, he’s not likely to fall asleep at random times or when you’re out running errands. This is because your kiddo has a routine and picks up on the sleep cues of that routine. Driving to the grocery store, in between naptimes, is not an appropriate time to sleep, especially if you want your little one to stay on schedule.
There are, however, times when your kiddo may be so tired out that you look in the rearview mirror to see her head nodding. Or, you leave the room to prepare dinner, only to return and find that your kiddo is rubbing her eyes while watching her favorite show. The alarm bells go off and you begin, like every other parent, to act like a crazy person, knowing that your child will be up until midnight if she naps now.
I’ve been known to tap my daughters’ legs if they try to nod-off, but I wanted to see what other parents do when faced with this dilemma. I asked parents and parenting writers to share how they keep their kiddos awake, and here’s what they said:
Michael Jackson is always a go to when we need to stay awake. WE DANCE! (Not my child, my nephew). Emily K.
We roll down the windows, turn up the radio and sing along at the top of our lungs! And just yesterday we gave the 5-year-old my phone to watch Funniest Home Videos on YouTube so he’d stay awake on the ride to baseball practice. Dana Kamp
I’ve tried tapping my son’s leg, opening his window and turning the radio up in the car — none of which worked — until I had a stroke of genius. My son is a mega-dinosaur fan, and a Jurassic Park fan (even the horrible 2nd and 3rd installments), so I pulled up a YouTube video of Universal Studios’ Jurassic Park ride on my phone; he was absolutely transfixed. Lauren B. Stevens
We listen to an audiobook, talk to the child, or let them throw shoes around in the backseat (I know, I’m a horrid parent). Elizabeth Broadbent
I am a terrible singer, so what I do is make up insane, very loud songs while poking at my kids and trying to engage them to sing along. If I’m able to move around, there is definitely ridiculous dancing involved, too. Their misery at my awfulness usually keeps them conscious long enough to keep them from dozing off! Kim Bongiorno
I may or may not have slammed on the brakes and screamed. Elly Lonon
I will engage in an active conversation with my child (he’s 4) so sometimes that takes imagination. We will look for things out the window to talk about. Sing songs together. Even make things up. C. is a boy that the later he is up past his bedtime the earlier he wakes up in the morning, so if his schedule gets jacked up – everyone’s life gets jacked up!!! Holly K.
I tell fart jokes. NJ Rongner
We play I spy or sing or iPad but not movies. Movies equal sleep. We do thinking games. Sometimes you just need them to stay awake! Sarah B.
“Look! A bear!” Lindsay Gallimore-O’Breham
Now you have plenty of options for the next time your kiddo attempts to take an impromptu nap! So, what do you do to keep your little one awake when s/he’s nodding off at the wrong time?
Hey new parent! Yes, YOU! I know, I know, you’re deliriously happy and sleep deprived — welcome to the parent club! Are you still swaying, side to side, even after putting your baby down? Rocking your baby is an incredibly natural thing to do, and many tired moms often continue to rock while standing, even without a baby in their arms! If you’re rocking your baby to get her to sleep, terrified of her eyes snapping open once her little body hits the crib or bassinet, you could be doing yourself a disservice.
Much like taking baby on drives to get him to sleep, or long walks in the stroller, you’re using motion to help calm your baby to sleep…and you’re not alone.
What happens when the movement stops? Does your baby wake almost immediately, or does she sleep for a short time and then wake up crying, forcing you to begin the entire process again from the start. You’re not going to like what I have to say, but you need to hear it — rocking your baby to sleep is not doing him or her any favors. In fact, you’re providing your baby with a sleep prop that a.) doesn’t work long term, b.) doesn’t teach your baby necessary sleep skills, and c.) is exhausting to maintain.
Yes, I know, it seems to work for your little one, and some sleep is surely better than none, you think. And yes, research says that rocking your baby is excellent for stimulating your baby’s developing brain. However, you really want to keep the rocking to awake hours with your little one. While you want to stimulate your baby’s brain during waking hours, you want your baby’s brain to wind down to rest (and grow) while sleeping. Rocking your baby is counterintuitive, as she will show outward signs of calm and relaxation, but her brain is actually too stimulated to allow her to fall into that deep, much needed, REM sleep.
Again, I am not advocating against rocking your baby to calm, cuddle or bond with him, I’m saying that you should break the habit of rocking him to sleep. If you find that you’re having to rock your baby to sleep before each nap and at bedtime, your baby has developed a habit that you’re going to want to change. You want your baby to learn how to fall asleep independently.
What do I mean by “fall asleep independently”? When you put your baby in her crib awake, after having shown sleep signs, you are allowing her to learn how to fall asleep on her own. The more your baby practices falling asleep independently, the better her sleep will be, and the more rested your baby and you will be.
If you’re having trouble breaking your rocking habit, don’t fret. I offer a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation to assess your family’s needs.
“My baby is one year old and he doesn’t sleep! He takes a short nap in the morning and then plays the rest of the day. He doesn’t go to sleep until really late and then is up extremely early. My husband and I are struggling to function without sleep — is there something wrong with our baby?”
The plea above is a pretty typical one, one that I hear from parents who contact me every week. No matter the age of their baby, she just isn’t sleeping; parents want to get baby to sleep longer, and their baby needs to sleep longer. When I look at the searches that bring parents to my website, the search terms are usually regarding questions about how much sleep their little one should be getting for her age, or how to increase the length of her naps, even questions about consolidating nighttime sleep. The simple answer is that all three of those questions are the answer — if you want to get baby to sleep longer, you need to focus on all areas of her sleep.
While the case above is an extreme one, I do often work with parents of babies who are only sleeping 6-8 hours a day, which is definitely not enough for a growing baby, so let’s take a look at how your baby is falling asleep.
If I had to guess, you’re probably using at least one sleep prop — rocking, feeding to sleep — to get your little one to fall asleep. You’re not going to believe me, but the best way to get your baby to sleep is to put her into her crib or bassinet while she’s still awake. Yes, awake! When you remove the sleep props and place your tired baby in her crib while she’s still awake, you’re allowing your baby to learn how to fall asleep on her own, without outside assistance.
Now, you’re not going to plop your baby into her crib and close the door, so don’t worry. What you do want to do is to a.) learn how to spot your baby’s sleep signs, both throughout the day and in the evening, and b.) establish a nap and bedtime routine and be consistent with it (you must be consistent). When you establish a sleep routine, your baby knows that at the end of the routine, it’s time to sleep — this way there are no surprises.
Sleep begets sleep, so once you learn to spot sleep signs, create a routine and tackle daytime naps, you’ll likely find that your baby sleeps better at night, and vice versa.
If you find yourself struggling to establish a sleep routine, or have tried the above suggestions and are still unable to get baby to sleep longer, I offer a 15-minute phone consultation, at no charge, to talk about how we can get your little one some much needed rest.
Have a newborn? Take a look at these tips for helping your newborn baby sleep longer.