Oh sleep, sleep ,sleep….. If only we had the magic wand to wave over our babies and toddlers to get them to sleep like little angels! But these babies and toddlers of ours are all so different. Some arrive on this planet and make sleep look easy. It’s no problem and their chilled little temperaments help them to easily slide into dreamland. Others, well……. hard!
Of course, different temperaments, means different ease of sleep for some babies, and I’ve definitely worked with hundreds who fight sleep night and day no matter what their tired parents try!
And while your families sleep challenges may feel as unique as your child, in my experience they generally fall into some pretty common categories.
If your feeling really alone and anxious with your little one’s sleep problems you are in fact probably experiencing one of the really common sleep challenges that many families face. So, let’s name them, and give you some clarity around what you can do about them.
My baby only falls asleep if I feed her to sleep (breast or bottle).
Oh so common. This is a what I define as a strong sleep association. Meaning that your baby has become very dependent on the physical feeling of feeding to get to the state of calm and in turn then to become drowsy and fall asleep.
An easy association to creep up on you really, because often this works a treat in the newborn phase (I mean isn’t that part of having a newborn)?
Well yes, it is, but the problem starts to creep in around four months of age when they are out of the newborn stage and now ideally need to learn some independence around sleep.
The first and most effective step to changing this habit is to move any pre-bedtime feeding to earlier in the bedtime routine. So put some distance between the last feed of the night and when you are actually popping them down into their cot.
This may mean that you have to do the last feed out on the couch so that they don’t become so drowsy or move it a little earlier. Then using your preferred sleep teaching technique, you can assist them to go to sleep without that feed.
Once that initial bedtime has become easy for your baby to go to sleep without being fed to sleep you would begin working on other overnight wake ups (that aren’t for actual feeds) using your chosen technique.
I find that once babies have got the hang of self setting and resettling skills overnight then it’s time to start working on these elements for their naps. They will simply use the skills that they have learnt overnight and transfer them to the day!
My baby only falls asleep with me rocking or holding him.
Are your arms going to fall off? No joke little babies start to get heavy right?…
You’re not alone if bedtime has started to take longer and longer. Is it becoming a little unbearable with the amount of rocking you have to do?
There’s no doubt that it’s lovely to hold and cuddle our babies to sleep but as time goes on this too becomes a real sleep crutch.
In fact, needing motion (rocking or swinging) to get to sleep is one of the most addictive ways for babies to get used to falling asleep.
So understandably if you’ve reached your limit on the holding or rocking, it’s time to teach your baby to fall asleep on their mattress by themselves.
I like to do this in a slow and gradual way. Begin by getting them to a calm state with a nice pre-sleep ritual, then transfer your baby to their cot. Rest your hand on their belly rocking them with your hand in the cot or patting them. Repeat this many times until they are asleep.
This takes patience and practice but it does work…….. as always if you need any help making this transition just reach out…
Could a medical issue be keeping my baby awake?
If your baby is still struggling to sleep and it’s something beyond a cold or feeling slightly unwell then it could be something more.
I always recommend checking with your doctor because underlying medical conditions such as reflux or apnoea can definitely interfere with your baby’s ability to sleep well.
Anything that interferes with you baby’s ability to feed well, breathe well or lie down comfortably will definitely affect their ability to sleep and these issues need to be addressed first and the right help administered.
Once these problems are sorted or calmed then you can begin working on your baby’s sleep.
What I often see in my work is that many babies who have suffered reflux for example often need some help with their sleep. This is because their parents have had to hold them upright after every feed, often for some time.
And this experience for the baby over time means that they have never really had much experience in lying in their cots and falling asleep by themselves.
In fact, many medical conditions will interfere with your baby learning to sleep with independence, but the great news is that this is not a sleep deal breaker.
They often need a little help but they too can become champion sleepers.
My baby sleeps quite well at night but wakes so early in the morning.
I would say that early morning waking is one of the biggest reasons why parents reach out for help from a sleep professional. There are many causes that may have your little one waking way before you’re ready to start the day. Let’s have a look at them.
The most common reason is that they are really overtired. After some weeks of early morning waking your baby is missing out on a lot of hours of sleep that they biologically need.
This often means that sleep will fall apart in other parts of the day too. Naps for example can often become shorter when babies are over tired.
The bottom line is that you need to help them to catch up on their sleep. So, offer more naps in the day if you need to for a short time.
There’s a common approach that many parents take to try and combat early morning waking and that is to put their babies or toddlers to bed much later in order to try and get them to ‘sleep in’ more. This approach however is a big myth and will perpetuate the overtiredness even more.
It sounds like common sense, but in fact the opposite approach is much more likely to help fix the problem.
Go for a really early bedtime for a few weeks (even up to a whole hour earlier) and let their bodies catch up on that lost sleep.
This will help to calm their nervous systems and make falling back asleep in the early hours easier.
And a big one is pay close attention to their sleep environment. Ensure that the room is still dark at that time of the morning.
Even a chink of light creeping through the curtains can be enough to wake up an alert little baby.
If there is someone in the family getting up early for work this can easily wake up a baby too.
I find this is where good quality loud white noise comes in really handy as it’s just so good at blocking out general house hold noise.
So, there you have it. The four biggest and most common sleep problems that I see parents struggling with.
But whilst they might be common, they are definitely fixable which is of course great news.
In my experience these sorts of problems are best to get onto fairly quickly as they often don’t just correct themselves without a little bit of help from you. And a little bit of help can mean so much more sleep for the whole family!
And if this all seems too hard please reach out because help is always available….