By: Tracy Spackman
Sleep is a hot topic among new and veteran moms. A common question that gets asked is, “Is your baby sleeping through the night?” or “How is your baby sleeping?” A better question to ask would be to the mom, “How are you sleeping? Are you getting enough sleep?” Because really, new babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night. They need to wake frequently to eat and to bond with their parents. Their sleep takes time to develop and organize.
So what can you do? Starting with these five things can make a big difference in your baby’s sleep.
Hunger can keep babies from sleeping. If your baby is hungry, feed him. Eating is more important than sleeping but usually you can have both at some point. The range of how often a baby needs to eat is very broad. If your baby is old enough to go long stretches at night, then some gentle sleep coaching may be in order.
Going to Bed Too Tired
If you put your baby to bed past his natural bedtime, determined by his circadian rhythm (body clock), then his body will cope by producing cortisol, the stress hormone that gives you a second wind. Your baby is just overtired and not coping very well. It’s hard to fall asleep in a cortisol rush and it increases night-time waking.
Nap Deprivation (Lack of sufficient daytime sleep-naps)
Missing your daytime sleep window also causes a cortisol hormone spike. Sleep begets sleep, getting enough naps helps with night sleep.
Going Down Asleep
Putting your baby to bed already asleep may be the easy thing to do but when he wakes up, he is in a different place than where he fell asleep (your warm arms or nursing comfortingly). His waking in his bed would be like you waking up on the kitchen floor. Yikes! Sometimes this is the only thing that works so be prepared to come soothe your baby when he wakes between sleep cycles. It’s normal.
If you have something that works, even if it’s a sleep crutch, use it. Switching things around and trying different methods are confusing for a baby looking for patterns and familiarity.
These are great things to start with for babies over four months old and may be all you need to focus on. Alert babies often need more. They have a harder time shutting down their minds to sleep and need help and support as they go through the learning process of relaxing and falling asleep.
What is gentle sleep coaching?
It’s a method of helping your baby learn self-regulation by responding to any night-time distress and undoing any sleep crutches that are causing him to need your individualized attention at night. Looking at environment, timing, feeding and milestones, Sleep Coaches make a plan to follow while you make needed changes to undo the sleep crutches. When you are done, you can put your baby in bed, walk away and he will put himself to sleep. A sleep coach guides the parents through the process of helping their baby learn sleep skills. I like gentle methods; ‘Cry It Out’ is never my go-to plan. I prefer offering lots of responding and fading it out as they develop skills.
Getting enough sleep has improved the health and temperament of babies, saved marriages and helped mom’s find their sanity. My gentle sleep coaching methods support healthy infant mental health. A good sleep makes a world of difference to the whole family.
Tracy Spackman is a Gentle Sleep Coach living in Phoenix and manages Quiet Nights Sleep Coaching Services. She has five children and does personal sleep consultations for families all over North America. In person or by phone, Tracy is easy to talk to and can relate to your parenting dilemmas. She is trained and certified in Gentle Methods and regularly speaks to parenting support groups. She provides a Facebook page “Sleep Sisters” for moms that need gentle sleep support. Tracy also writes daily and weekly sleep tips on her Facebook page and writes a blog for more complex topics at www.GetQuietNights.blogspot.com. You can find out more about her on her website if you need sleep help at www.GetQuietNights.com.