Parents who struggle with their children’s sleep often report feeling lonely, unsupported, and frustrated. There are lots of schools of thought, conflicting information and due to the nature parents of being sleep deprived, they may be also emotionally and physically drained.
When parents struggle with their children sleep, they often feel but they have failed in some way and that they “should” be able to help their child sleep. Child sleep challenges affect somewhere between 40 and 70% a family unit at some point in their parenting career.
Having a child who struggles to sleep in any capacity, be that resistance to bedtime frequent night time activity, long wake periods, early waking, nap resistance, short naps for example- is not a representation of anything the parent has done wrong and it is unlikely that there is a right or wrong way in the first instance, but what there is, I might describe as being scope and opportunity to gradually sensitively and emotionally appropriately grow your child’s sleep- at a pace that they are ready for.
I encourage parents to think of their children see in two halves: under six months of age where we introduce gentle sleep shaping and then over six months of age up to six years of age where we can introduce gentle sleep learning.
I encourage parents to place huge emphasis on embracing the individuality of each child and the variability that exists between individual children’s sleep tendencies. It is ideal if parent can view their child’s sleep as a process and a work in progress-I encourage parents to establish their individual child’s personal sleep best based on their age, their stage, their ability, and the informed decisions that the parents are making.
More than anything else I prioritize the loving, attuned, and connected relationship between the parent and the child, the environment both physical and emotional and the relationship that the parent has with themselves.
As well as prioritizing the family dynamics, I encourage parents to seek information that resonates, together with deep, and meaningful understanding, around the various influencing factors of their children sleep to create fertile ground within which we can nurture more consolidated, less interrupted deeper sleep for each family member.
There are a great many influences on your child’s sleeping patterns: everything that they think, feel, see, do, hear, eat and drink affects their sleep. Everything the parents, think and feel, see, does and eats and drinks affects the child’s sleep.
Further factors include underlying medical issues such as reflux, food sensitivities and intolerances and teething- all can affect your child’s sleep. So too, can where they sleep and what they wear and so on.
Treating Sleep Under 6 months- Gentle Sleep Learning
Understanding that your baby is not designed to sleep in large tracts is possibly helpful. Your baby potentially has a large sleep need, but this is generally scattered within a 24h period, with very little respect for a parent nighttime sleep need. I encourage parents to embrace this season, with the knowledge that the waking to feed and to be reassured- even if these waking are extensive, are nature’s way of helping to keep your baby alive and connected with the parent as they begin their life’s journey.
Secondly, I also, discourage that you would worry unnecessarily about what you may have heard are bad habits or a tendency to spoil your new baby. Your number one priority is to teach your baby to feel, loved, safe, secure, heard and seen. You baby is dependent on you for their every need and so I suggest that we grow the loving-trust bond that will develop and extend through the life span- learn to become attuned to your baby so that they can grow confident in how you are responding to them- that you are available, understand their needs and that they do not need to panic.
Make eye contact, hold your baby, rock your baby, cuddle them and respond to their signals as best as you can.
Many baby’s to do want to be put down- they have spent 9 months in-utero and they feel safer and more secure, near to the parent-lean into this and develop a host of ways to support your baby in this high-need- spread the risk between co-parents and any other support that is available to you. Meet the need. Rock, Roll, Sling, Swing.
Learn to read the language of sleep, look for brief eye rubs and zoning out to avoid overtiredness and observe small wake periods between nap attempts.
Whenever you feel ready, introduce a flexible feeding and sleeping balance to the day- consider a regular wake time and develop a synchronicity between the offer of feeds and attempts to sleep.
Create a sleep friendly environment for bedtime- crib, co sleeper, cot without positioners always observing safe sleep-transition to a conventional cot by 4-5 months, again without positioners.
Create a dark space for overnight sleep, have everything as your disposal and keep nighttime feeds to the bedroom and when confident only change the nappy when necessary. Do not avoid eye contact but do keep nighttime at a lower key that daytime.
Introduce a predictable bedtime routine, bedtime will be adult orientated timewise for the first few months.
As early as possible begin to use the percentage of wakefulness approach- this initiates the start of sleep ability. This means helping your baby to be a little bit more awake than completely asleep at bedtime specifically say for example you may aim for them to be initially 5% awake and aware that you put them down, when they begin to fuss a little bit support them and then as the next few weeks unfold aim to increase the ratio to maybe 70-30% so that they are more aware and putting themselves to sleep at bedtime, which means that they will begin to be able to start to stay asleep for longer after bedtime and wake for feeds and not wake through each sleep phase. This process describes initiating sleep ability, that is encouraged to help your child achieve and maintain their sleep, with your support, but that becomes a foundation for independent ability that helps sleep consolidate.
When this is working well, gradually introduce this to daytime sleep numbers 1 and 2- for all other sleep maintain motion or contact as suits your family.
As baby gets older gradually bring forward their bedtime so that by 4months + the natural bedtime lands between 6-8pm.
In this time frame, your child’s sleep will potentially be getting more organized although many babies under 6 months will typically nap for no more than 30-40m with or without assistance, until nap rhythms develop further beyond 6 months of age.
Remember that there is a lot going on developmentally and that this can also have an impact on your child’s sleeping pattern. In this age profile, further intensive sleep changes are not recommended, it is best to observe the suggestions outlined and meet your baby where they are developmentally at.
If in any doubt in this age profile- discuss with your GP, your health visitor, an osteopath, and lactation consultant- seek a network of parents support but be careful about comparing your individual baby with another is, as they will all be uniquely different.
Lucy Wolfe, is a sleep consultant, Author of the bestselling book The Baby Sleep Solution and All About The Baby Sleep Solution, creator of “Sleep Through”, a natural bed and body sleep spray and relaxing rub, and mum of four. She runs a private sleep consulting practice where she provides knowledge, expertise and valuable support to families across the country.