I can clearly remember, like most mothers I’m sure, the very moment I gave birth to my first child. I was absolutely buried in feelings of love and gratitude.
And then, about ten to fifteen seconds later, I was equally buried in advice, suggestions, and information. This was all thrown at me with the best intentions, but it was overwhelming nonetheless. I can’t imagine the number of times I heard the words, “You should,” “You’ll want to,” and “You’ve got to.” If there’s no such number as a “kajillion,” it should be created specifically in order to measure the number of suggestions a new mother receives in her first year of motherhood. Of course, those feelings of love and gratitude persist to this day, and so do the recommendations. And that’s coming from an expert, a professional, in the child care field. I can only imagine the tidal waves of hints and advice that must overwhelm a mother who openly asks for it.
There’s no such thing as a casual mom. This gig is full-time, no matter if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, a working mom, or somewhere in between. Your kids are on your mind 24/7, no matter what else might be going on, so we tend to do a lot of research, and with access to unlimited data via the internet, Barnes & Noble, or your mother-in- law, it’s inevitable that we get some conflicting information. Although when it comes to kids, I think the discussion even eclipses politics for the sheer divisiveness and claiming opinion as fact.
So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, that being sleep, and try to dispel some of the more popular myths I’ve seen in parenting forums, heard from Mom groups I’ve talked with, or had angrily shouted in all caps on my Facebook page.
1. Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night.
Not likely, except in extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with the length of their naps. Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2 – 2 1/2 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour. What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sack out for a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually just the opposite. The reason we refer to it as being “overtired” is because baby has missed the “tired” phase and their bodies start to kick back into gear, which keeps them from falling and staying asleep. A baby who has gotten a decent amount of sleep during the day is far less likely to miss the sleep window.
There are substantial variations depending on baby’s age and the length of their naps, but up to that 6 month mark, it’s really not uncommon for baby to be sleeping around 5 hours a day outside of nighttime sleep, so if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.
2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.
Sleeping is natural, absolutely. Everybody wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night, regardless of their age. So no, you can’t teach a child to be sleepy. What can be taught, however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently. The typical “bad sleeper” of a baby isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up. They’ve just learned to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake up. Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, they start stringing those sleep cycles together absolutely effortlessly, and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night” as most parents understand it.
3. Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule.
The idea that infant physiology is so flawlessly, naturally programmed to regulate a baby’s schedule is, to be blunt, laughable. Nothing against Mother Nature, but she doesn’t provide us with a ready-to- run baby like she does with say, the blue wildebeest. (Seriously? Walking six minutes after birth? Outrunning predators within a day? Our babies are cuter, but clearly not as
prepared for battle straight out of the womb.) Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep cycle by as little as a half hour, their cortisol production can increase which causes a surge in energy, and things quickly spiral out of control. So as much as I wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.
Nope. And this isn’t just me talking here. This is the American Academy of Pediatrics. If there’s a more reliable source of baby health information, they’re astoundingly bad at marketing themselves. And according to a 2016 study conducted by eight of their top researchers, behavioral intervention, (A.K.A Sleep training) “provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” Not a whole lot of gray area there.
5. Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
Putting aside our religious beliefs for a moment, I think we can all agree
that, even if babies were “designed” somehow, whoever did the designing left plenty of room for some upgrades. Trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing is a recipe for disaster. Is your toddler designed to eat three pounds of gummi bears? Surely not. Will they if you don’t intervene? Without a doubt. Is your baby designed to avoid predators? If so, nobody told my little ones, who would have happily hugged a hungry Siberian tiger if it approached them. (They might still, I don’t know. It’s never come up.) You’re in charge because you know best, even if it may not feel like it sometimes.
There are obviously plenty more myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits, but these are some of the most important to get the facts on. You can find peer-reviewed scientific study on all things baby-related, and trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, the World Health Organization, and other national children’s health organizations are excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health.
And if you want more information about the benefits of sleep, I’m willing to talk about it to the point of obnoxiousness. Set up a call with me this week!
That right there might be the single most common question new parents ask. Is it a developmental milestone? A regression? Are they getting too much sleep during the day, or not enough? Maybe they’re just hungry. Maybe they’re too hot, or too cold.
Well, the truth is that it could be any of those things, and it could be a combination of several of them. What that means, and what you’re probably already aware of, is that baby’s sleep is tremendously complicated. Their bodies and brains are rapidly going through significant changes, and by the time they’ve got one issue under control, a new one pops up to take its place. There are factors you can control, obviously. If baby’s too hot, you can turn up the AC or put a fan in the room. If they’re teething, a little Children’s Tylenol can often solve the problem, at least temporarily. But those are the simple fixes. The reason most people have such a challenging time with their babies’ sleep is because of problems that aren’t so simple, and don’t have obvious solutions.
Imagine this scenario: An 18 month old child gets plenty of fresh air and sunlight during the day, goes down easily for long, restful naps, but when bedtime rolls around, suddenly they’re full of energy and want to play. When they’re told it’s time for bed, they get upset and bedtime becomes a battle. Once
they do finally get to sleep, they wake up several times at night and never sleep past 5:30 in the morning.
So what’s going on? Is baby getting too much sleep during the day? That would be the reasonable assumption, for sure. After all, if us grown-ups were to take a 3 hour nap in the afternoon, there’s a good chance we’d have a hard time falling and staying asleep that night. But the opposite is almost always the case. What baby is demonstrating in this scenario is actually a need for more sleep, not less. In order to understand this counterintuitive reasoning, first a little background on how this whole system of sleep works.
About three hours prior to when we’re naturally prone to waking up, our bodies start secreting a hormone called cortisol, and if you’ve done some reading on your baby’s sleep prior to this, the sight of that word probably causes you to flinch a little. Cortisol is a stimulating hormone, and is also produced in times of stress in order to elevate the heart rate and stimulate the nervous system (in case, y’know, bears) but in the morning, it’s just trying to get us started. Think of it as mother nature’s caffeine. And if cortisol is our morning cup of coffee, melatonin is our evening glass of wine. Once the sun starts to go down, our bodies recognize the onset of night and begin to produce this lovely sleep-
inducing hormone, which helps us get to sleep and stay asleep until morning, when the whole process starts over again.
Melatonin production is increased and starts earlier in the evening when
we awaken to some nice, bright sunlight. But as beautifully crafted as this system is, it’s not perfect and it’s easily confused. So in the situation
we examined above, here’s what’s happening…
Baby’s taking great naps during the day, which is obviously wonderful, and she’s getting lots of time outdoors, so her body’s ready to crank out some melatonin when nighttime rolls around. So what’s with that burst of energy right before bedtime?
The brain instinctively decides that something isn’t right; that for whatever reason, baby can’t sleep, (probably because, y’know, bears.) And if baby’s got a bear to run from, adding a shot of cortisol should help increase her chances for survival. So that’s exactly what it does. Baby’s system starts secreting cortisol and, before you know it, she’s a little bit cranked. This often shows up in the form of playfulness and an abundance of energy. In short, baby missed the window and now she’s going to have a hard time getting to sleep, but her behavior indicates anything but sleepiness.
So what does all of this have to do with the dreaded 3 A.M. (or 4 A.M.) wake ups? Here’s what happens… Assuming your baby’s circadian rhythm is scheduling a 6 A.M. wake up, then her body starts to secrete cortisol three hours prior to that. And at this point, the melatonin production has ceased for the night. So baby hits the end of a sleep cycle around 3:00. She gets to that “slightly awake” state, and now there’s a little bit of stimulant and no natural sedative. This, combined with a lack of independent sleep skills, means that baby’s probably going to wake up fully, and have a really hard time getting back to sleep. So now for the big question you’ve probably been hoping I might have an answer for.
How do I fix it?
While there’s no quick fix for adjusting baby’s hormone production schedule, you can definitely help her out by getting her outdoors during the day as much as possible. As I mentioned before, natural light during the day is the big cheerleader for melatonin production at night. It also helps to ensure that baby’s room is as dark as you can get it at night, and start turning down
the lights in the house at least an hour before you put her to bed. Simulating the sunset will help to cue that melatonin production so that it’s in full swing when she goes into her crib. Avoid any TV, iPhone, tablet, or screen time of any kind for that same hour before bedtime. (Preferably even longer) as these devices emit a geyser of blue light, which will stimulate cortisol production right at the time when you’re trying to avoid it.
But above all, the number one way to help your baby sleep through the night is to get her on a predictable, consistent sleep schedule and teach her the skills she needs to fall asleep independently. Because the truth is that you’re never going to prevent nighttime wake ups. We all wake up in the night, regardless of our age. As adults, we just have the ability to calmly assess the situation when we wake up in the dark, realize where we are, see that it’s still nighttime, and go right back to sleep. Most of the time we don’t even remember it the next morning. So although we can’t prevent baby from waking up at night, we can safely and effectively help her learn to recognize that she’s safe, in familiar territory, still tired, and capable of getting back to sleep on her own.
You can find more information about how to do this by downloading my “5 Tips to Getting Your Baby Sleeping Through the Night” guide. And although I know I made light of it earlier, you should always check and make sure that baby’s
room is absolutely, positively, 100% free of bears. Waking up to a snarling grizzly will set your baby’s sleep habits back immeasurably.
As a professional sleep coach, I hear the term “regression” used in regards to just about every imaginable circumstance. Essentially, if baby doesn’t sleep well for a couple of nights, parents start dropping the ‘R’ word. Some people subscribe to the idea that there’s an eight month regression, a 9 month regression, a 1 year regression, as well as teething regressions, growth spurt regressions, and so on. Others see these as simple hiccups caused by extenuating circumstances.
But the four-month regression, everybody agrees on, and for good reason. It’s the real deal, and it’s permanent.
So in order to understand what’s happening to your baby during this stage, first you need to know a few things about sleep in general. So here’s the science-y part, told in plain English.
Many of us just think of sleep as an on-or-off situation. You’re either asleep or you’re not. But sleep actually has a number of different stages, and they make up the “sleep cycle,” which we go through several times a night.
Stage 1 is that initial stage we’re all familiar with where you can just feel yourself drifting off, but don’t really feel like you’ve fallen asleep. Anyone who has ever seen their partner nodding off in front of the TV, told them to go to bed, and gotten the canned response of, “I wasn’t sleeping!” knows exactly what this looks like.
Stage 2, which is considered the first “true sleep” stage. This is where people tend to realize, once woken up, that they actually were sleeping. For anyone taking a “power nap,” this is as deep as you want to go, or else you’re going to wake up groggy.
Stage 3 is deep and regenerative. Also known as “slow wave” sleep, this is where the body starts repairing and rejuvenating the immune system, muscles tissue, energy stores, and sparks growth and development.
Stage 4 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is where the brain starts to kick in and consolidates information and memories from the day before. It’s also the stage where we do most of our dreaming.
Once we’ve gone through all of the stages, we either wake up or come close to waking up, and then start over again until the alarm goes off.
So what does this have to do with the dreaded regression we were talking about originally?
Well, newborn babies only have 2 stages of sleep; stage 3 and REM, and they spend about half their sleep in each stage. But at around the third or fourth month, there is a reorganization of sleep, as they embrace the 4-stage method of sleep that they’ll continue to follow for the rest of their lives.
When this change takes place, baby moves from 50% REM sleep to 25% in order to make room for those first two stages. So although REM sleep is light, it’s not as light as these 2 new stages that they’re getting used to, and with more time spent in lighter sleep, there’s more of a chance that baby’s going to wake up.
That’s not to say that we want to prevent or avoid baby waking up. Waking up is absolutely natural, and we continue to wake up three, four, five times a night into adulthood and even more in old age.
As adults, however, we’re able to identify certain comforting truths that baby might not be privy to. When we wake in the night, we’re able to recognize that, “Hey, I’m here in my bed, it’s still nighttime, my alarm isn’t going to go off for another three hours, and I’m reasonably certain that there are no monsters lurking under my bed. I can go back to sleep”
And we do. Usually so quickly that, the next morning, we don’t even remember the brief encounter with consciousness.
A four month old baby, of course, lacks these critical thinking skills. To a four month old baby who fell asleep at her mother’s breast, the reasoning could go much more to the tune of, “OK, last thing I remember, there was a familiar, beloved face, I was having dinner, and someone was singing me a soothing song about the Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Now I’m alone in this dark room, there’s no food, and there’s probably at least three, possibly four, scary monsters in the immediate vicinity.”
That’s probably an exaggeration, but who knows what goes on in the mind of a four month-old baby?
Anyways, now that baby’s suddenly realized that Momma’s not around, and they’re not entirely sure where they’ve gone, the natural response is to do a little freaking out. That stimulates the fight-or-flight response and, next thing you know, baby’s not going back to sleep without a significant amount of reassurance that everything is OK.
The other major contributor to this 4 month fiasco, I find, is that up until this point, parents have either been putting their baby to sleep with a pacifier, or by rocking them, or by feeding them, or some similar technique where baby is helped along on the road to falling asleep.
Now that baby’s spending more time in light sleep, and therefore has a higher probability of waking up, this suddenly becomes a much bigger issue. These sleep props or sleep associations can be very sneaky indeed, because although they may be helpful in getting your little one to that initial nodding off stage, the lack of them when they wake up means that baby’s not able to get back to sleep again without some outside help. Cue the fight-or-flight, the crying, and the adrenaline. When this starts happening every half an hour, parents can find themselves in a nightmarish situation.
So, the good news for anyone experiencing the dreaded Four Month Sleep Regression is that it’s not, in fact, a regression at all. A regression is defined as “reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level,” and that’s actually the opposite of what your baby is experiencing. This would be much more aptly titled the “Four Month Sleep Progression”
So, onto the big question. What can you do to help your little one adjust?
First off, get all of that light out of baby’s room. I’m not kidding around here. You might think that baby’s room is dark enough, or that baby might not like the dark, and that it’s comforting to have a little bit of light coming through the windows or seeping in from the hallway.
Baby’s room should be dark. I mean coal mine on a moonless night kind of dark. Tape garbage bags over the windows if you have to, or cover them with tinfoil. (Just be prepared to explain it to the police when the neighbors accuse you of running a grow-op.)
Newborns and infants are not afraid of the dark. They are, however, responsive to light. Light tells their brains that it’s time for activity and alertness, and the brain secretes hormones accordingly, so we want to keep that nursery absolutely pitch black during naps and bedtime.
The other nemesis of daytime sleep, (and nighttime for that matter, although not nearly as often) is noise. Whether its UPS ringing the doorbell, the dog warning you that the squirrels are back and for sure going to attack the house this time, or something falling on the floor three rooms away. With baby spending more time in lighter sleep, noises will startle them easily and wake them up, so a white noise machine is a great addition to your nursery.
“Wait, isn’t that a prop,” you’re asking. Well, in a way, it is, but it doesn’t require any winding, resetting, reinserting, or parental presence. It’s just there and it can be on as long as baby’s sleeping, so it’s not a prop we need to avoid.
Bedtime routines are also an essential component to getting your baby sleeping well. Try to keep the routine to about 4 or 5 steps, and don’t end it with a feed. Otherwise, you risk baby nodding off at the breast or the bottle, and that will create the dreaded “association” that we talked about earlier.
So try to keep the feed near the beginning of the routine and plan the songs, stories, and getting into PJs towards the end. The whole process should be about 20 – 30 minutes long, and baby should go into their crib while they’re still awake.
If you’re noticing baby getting fussy before bedtime, you’ve probably waited too long. Four month old babies should really only be going about two hours between snoozes, and bedtime should be between 7 and 8 at night.
Now, there are going to be regressions, actual regressions, later on in your little one’s youth. Traveling, illness, cutting teeth, all of these things can cause your little one to have a few bad nights in a row. But when it comes to the four month “progression,” I’m happy to report that this is a one-time thing. Once you’re through this, your baby will have officially moved into the sleep cycle that they’ll essentially be following for the rest of their life. Four glorious stages repeated multiple times a night.
And by taking this opportunity to teach them the skills they need to string those sleep cycles together, independently, prop-free, without any need for nursing, rocking, or pacifiers, you’ll have given them a gift that they’ll enjoy for the rest of their young lives.
Of course, some kids are going to take to this process like a fish to water, and some are going to be a little more resistant. If yours falls into the former category, count yourself as lucky, take delight in your success, and go ahead and gloat about it on Facebook.
For those of you in the latter camp, I’m happy to help in any way I can. Just visit my website or give me a call and we can work on a more personalized program for your little one. The most common thing I hear after working with clients is, “I can’t believe I waited so long to get some help!” So if you’re considering hiring a consultant, now is absolutely the time. I offer a free 20 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!
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 coach, 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 room.
• Therefore, Mommy is somewhere else.
• I would prefer to be there with her.
• 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
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.”
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
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 daycare 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 unconsciously, 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. 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.”
Today, our question comes from Marnie, and she writes, “My one-year-old is waking up at 4:00 AM, and won”t go back to sleep even after I nurse him. He then struggles to make it to his first nap of the day. He goes to bed at 7:30, and has two solid naps during the day. How can I fix this?”
First of all, Marnie, you are not alone in this. This is the number one question that I get from parents every day, their baby is waking up too early. I’ve got three tips around that for you, Marnie. The first would be to have a look at darkness. That’s always the first place I look, especially in the summer.
People often think that they’ve got it dark enough, but it can always be darker, because even the slightest change in light variation can stimulate a wake up in anybody. As an adult, you can look at the clock and notice that it’s not time to get up, yet. A baby can’t do that. I want it dark in there. I want it to be as dark as it would be if you walked in, in the very middle of the night. That’s tip number one.
Tip number two, actually, it’s a concern number two, let’s call it, Marnie, is the fact that you’re nursing him at 4:00 AM. Given his age, there should be absolutely no reason why your child would need a night feed.
My worry with this is that the 4:00 AM might actually get earlier and earlier and earlier, instead of buying you more time, because to the baby, there’s no difference between a 2:00 feed and a 4:00 feed. I want you to consider pulling that.
There’s absolutely no reason why he would need it. You might actually be stimulating him and waking him up. After his nurse, he goes back to the crib and thinks, “What are we doing here? I feel ready to go. Let’s start the day.î” That’s why you’re having the struggles that you are, OK?
Tip number three is the morning nap. Youíve mentioned in your question that he’s having a really hard time making it until his first nap of the day. I find that what can happen is, if a baby wakes up too early in the morning, gets up, starts his day, he’s going to be fatigued fairly quickly.
It’s tempting to start putting him down earlier and earlier and earlier for that morning nap. But you don’t want to do that. If you do that, you will get stuck in this viscous cycle of him waking up too early, going down for a nap at 7:00 AM, and throwing off your whole day. That will just absolutely mess up with his body clock. You’ll have to have a third nap, which will be completely foreign to him, and it’ll just cause a whole bunch of problems.
Even though it’s really tough, and I totally understand that, you’ve got to hang on to his normal nap time. If it’s 09:30 AM, even if he’s been up since 04:30, you’ve got to hang in there until 09:30. My advice would be to give him a bit of fresh air around eight o’clock, make sure that you give him enough snacks and food to keep his energy levels up to really encourage him to hang in there.
It’s similar to if you got up at 04:00 AM, wandered around, maybe had a snack, and then eventually went back to bed and finished your night. That’s what’s happening here, most likely. Hang in there until the first nap of the day. I always suggest that people do not change bedtime. That is super tempting when you’ve got an early riser. You think, “Oh, if we just keep him up late, he’ll sleep later in the morning.” That hardly ever works.
In fact, all you end up doing, then, is creating a huge amount of over-tiredness in your child, which leads to more fragmented sleep and even earlier morning wake ups. Try this tip and let me know how it goes!
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar…
Your baby wakes up in the morning after a solid night’s sleep. You feed her, change her, play with her for a little bit, take her for a little walk outside, then rock her to sleep and put her gently into her crib for her morning nap.
And then, 30 minutes later, she wakes up fussy and irritable and, despite your pleading, bargaining, and offers of riches, refuses to go back to sleep.
So after half an hour of trying to put her back down, you finally give in, hoping she’ll be that much more tired when her afternoon nap rolls around, only to have the exact same scenario play out again, and baby is a cranky ball of unhappiness for the rest of the day.
Sleep, like food, is one of those elements where baby’s got the final say on whether or not they’re going to cooperate, so there’s no sense trying to force the issue. If they’re not sleeping, just leaving them in their room usually won’t fix things.
So here’s what’s going on, and how to fix it.
Understanding Sleep Cycles
Babies, just like the rest of us, sleep in cycles. We start off in a light state where we’re easily woken up, then gradually fall into a deeper stage where even loud noises or movement might not be able to rouse us. This, incidentally, is the good stuff. This is the really rejuvenative, restful sleep where our brains and bodies do all of the maintenance work that leaves us refreshed, clear-headed and energetic when we get enough.
Once we’ve come to the end of the deep-sleep cycle, we slowly start coming back to the light stage again, and typically we wake up for a few seconds and then drift off again, and the whole thing starts again.
In adults, one of those cycles typically takes about an hour and a half. In babies, it can be as little as 30 minutes.
So the fact that your baby is waking up after only 30 minutes is actually completely natural. In fact, if she wasn’t waking up regularly, that might be cause for concern.
“But,” you’re thinking, “I have friends whose babies nap for two or three hours at a time.” Well, that’s partially true. But in a more literal sense, they’re stringing together several sleep cycles in a row. The only difference between their baby and your baby is…
They’ve learned how to fall back to sleep on their own.
That’s it. That really is the heart of the issue. Once your baby can fall asleep without help, they’ll start stringing together those sleep cycles like an absolute champ. That’s going to make your baby a whole lot happier and, on the self-indulgent side, leave you with two hours at a time to do whatever you like. (Granted, as a new mother, “whatever you like” might not mean what it once did, but still, two hours twice a day to catch up on motherhood-related tasks is something we can all appreciate.)
So remember back at the start of that scenario, there you were, getting ready to put baby down for her nap, gently rocking her to sleep and then putting her down in her crib.
Stop right there. That’s where you need to make some changes. Because in this scenario, you are acting as what we in the sleep consulting business refer to as a “sleep prop.”
Sleep props are basically anything that your baby uses to make the transition from awake to asleep. Pacifiers are the most common example, but there are many others, including feeding, rocking, singing, bouncing, snuggling, and car rides.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t rock your baby, or sing to her, or read her stories, or love her like crazy. You absolutely should.
Just not to the point where she falls asleep.
When it comes to bedtime, whatever time of the day that might be, put your baby down in her crib, while she’s still awake, and let her fall asleep on her own.
There might be a little bit of protest for a day or two, but for the majority of my clients, the results start to materialize in about two or three days.
Think about that. Two or three days, and you and your little one could be enjoying the extraordinary benefits of proper sleep. She’ll be happier, healthier, more energetic, and you’ll both sleep better at night to boot.
Some other pointers for extending baby’s nap time…
- Keep the bedroom as dark as possible. Buy some blackout blinds if the sun is getting in, or if you’re on a budget, tape some black garbage bags over the windows. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be functional.
- White noise machines are useful if baby tends to wake up due to the neighbor’s barking dog, the inconsiderate delivery guy ringing the doorbell, or any other noise that might startle them out of their nap. Just make sure it’s not too close to their ears and not too loud. 50 dB is the recommended limit.
- If you’re running into trouble applying these suggestions, set up a complimentary 20 minute call with me so we can start to find a solution. The solution might be simpler than it appears, and most of my clients see a dramatic improvement in a short amount of time.
With the holidays approaching, many new parents who have recently gotten their babies sleeping on a schedule are worried that they might regress a little over the holidays.
And I can assure you, those fears could not be more well-founded.
Between the travel, the excitement, the constant attention and then travel all over again, the holidays are the single easiest way to throw all of your hard work out with the wrapping paper and turkey bones.
But I’m happy to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way! With some strategic planning and an iron will, you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did at home.
There are two major impediments to your little one’s sleep over the holidays. One is travel and the other is family and friends, so I just want to tackle both of those topics individually.
First off, travel.
If you’re thinking about starting sleep training your little one, but you’ve got to take a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put off the training until you get back. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to cancel your trip, not wanting to throw your baby’s sleep schedule out of whack is a pretty good one. Just sayin’!)
If you’ve already started, not to worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some semblance of normalcy until the end of your trip, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.
If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over baby’s naps. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by a mile. So if at all possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be taking their first nap.
If you’re really committed, you might even look for some parks, tourist attractions, or other outdoor activities that are on your route where you can stop when baby gets up. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, which will make that next nap that much easier.
If you’re flying, well, my heart goes out to you.
It’s no secret that planes and babies just don’t seem to like each other, so I suggest (and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this) that you do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of fuss. Hand out snacks, let them play with your phone, and otherwise let them do anything they want to do.
The truth is, if they don’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re just not going to, so don’t try to force it. It will just result in a lot of frustration for both of you. (And, most likely, the passengers around you.)
Alright! So you’ve arrived, and hopefully you’ve managed to maintain some degree of sanity. Now, I’m sorry to say, comes the hard part.
Because in the car or on the plane, everybody is on your side, right? Keeping baby quiet and relaxed, and hopefully asleep, is just what everyone is rooting for.
But now that you’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s place, it’s just the opposite. Everyone wants baby awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously overstimulated. And it’s exceptionally difficult to tell all of these friends and family members that you’re putting an end to the fun because baby needs to get to sleep.
So if you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now. Don’t negotiate, don’t make exceptions, and don’t feel bad about it. Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you the “I’ll just sneak in a take a quick peek,” routine that baby’s in the middle of sleep training and you’re not taking any chances of them waking up. Let them know when baby will be getting up and tell them to hang around, come back, or catch you the next time. Or better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on baby’s schedule.
I know it sounds harsh, but the alternative is an almost immediate backslide right back into day one. Baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then overtiredness kicks in, cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined, which results in more overtiredness which derails nighttime sleep, and before you know it, you’re headed home and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire trip.
I’m not even slightly exaggerating. It happens that quickly.
So OK, you’ve steeled your nerves and let everyone know that you’re not budging on baby’s schedule. She took her naps at the right times, and now it’s time for bed. The only catch is that, with all of the company staying at the house, there’s only one room for you and baby.
No problem, right? Bed sharing for a few nights isn’t the end of the world, after all.
I wish I could make it that easy for you, but again, you want to make this as little of a deviation from the normal routine as possible, and babies can develop a real affinity for co-sleeping in as little as one night.
So this may sound a little unorthodox, but if you’re sharing a room, what I suggest is simple.
Make it into two rooms.
I’m not saying you need to bust out the lumber and drywall, but I do suggest hanging a blanket, setting up a dressing screen, or, yes, I’m going to go ahead and say it, put baby in the closet.
That sounds crazy, I know, but really, a decent sized closet is a great place for baby to sleep. It’s dark, it’s quiet, she won’t be distracted by being able to see you, and people accidentally walking in and out of the room are much less likely to distract her.
And while we’re on the subject of “no exceptions,” that rule extends to all other sleep props. You might be tempted to slip baby a pacifier or rock her to sleep if she’s disturbing the rest of the house, but baby is going to latch on to that really, really quickly, and chances are you’ll be waking up every hour or two, rocking baby back to sleep or putting her pacifier back in, which is going to end up disturbing everyone a lot worse than a half hour of crying at 7:00 at night.
Now, on a serious note, I find the biggest reason that parents give in on these points is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on the new baby, and by association, the new parent.
The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting is nearly overwhelming in these family gatherings, but in those moments, remember what’s really important here.
Your baby, your family, and their health and well-being.
There may well be a few people who feel a bit jaded because you put baby to bed just when they got in the door, and your mother might tell you that putting your baby in the closet for the night is ridiculous, but remember you’re doing this for a very noble cause. Perhaps the most noble cause there is.
So stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero, defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name, you go right ahead. WonderMom, UberMama, The Somnum Inducere, if you’re feeling really fancy. Just remember that, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses.
Ignore them. You’re on a mission.
I work with hundreds of families each year teaching them how to help their baby or young child sleep more independently and restfully. One of the most common questions I get near the end of our time together is, ” What do we do when our baby/child gets sick? Do we stick to the plan or do something else?”
Typically my response goes something like this…
“When your child is sick it is natural to want to give them more comfort, attention, and assistance. As a mother myself, I would never expect you to do anything less. The key, though, is to do your best not to fall back on the old “sleep props” we’ve worked so hard to remove from the way your child goes to sleep. And if you need to fall back on those, just set a plan in motion to jump right back on track as soon as your child is on the mend.”
I would never want to be a hypocrite…
Rewind to last Thursday night. My almost 7-year old (the one who is the whole reason I became a sleep consultant) came down with a double-whammy: Strep Throat and Influenza A. Yowsa! His fever was higher than ever before and because he has asthma, we were on super high alert to watch for any sudden signs of difficult breathing. Now, when we had our babies, we were never a family who considered bed sharing. I was just too scared about the risk factors (although we had plenty other sleep props in place). But last Thursday night, neither my husband nor I hesitated at the thought of letting G sleep with me in our bed so I could listen to his breathing and check his fever throughout the night. I knew in my head this was dangerous! G is the kind of kid that if you give him an inch, he will take a mile and this is especially true when it comes to sleep. When he was just over 3 years old, we had a sleep prop in place that was waking him (and us) up 3-5 times a night because we couldn’t muster up the nerve to set some strong boundaries in place.
So for two nights last week he slept in my bed and I listened to his breathing and I didn’t sleep a whole lot. At one point I had to wake my husband up (who was now in the guest room) because I thought maybe it was time to take him into the ER instead of waiting until the morning. He was so snug as a bug in our bed and I knew he thought it was a special “treat” and would expect it night after night going forward. Sure enough, on night 3 when his fever was way down and no signs of difficult breathing in sight, my little G says, “Mom, I want to sleep in your bed tonight.” Ugh… here we go… pull out the toughness!
I respectfully “declined” his request, just like I always coach my parents to do with young children’s bedtime requests. He asked again and again and I stuck to my guns. Luckily it wasn’t too hard and didn’t last too long and he got into his own bed. Whew! He woke a bit early in the morning and wanted to come into our bed. Again, I had to decline, knowing he was going to possibly put up a fight at 5am and wake his brother. But I also knew I had to stick it out. A rule is a rule is a rule. And I reminded him several times that now he is feeling better, back in his bed he stays! The next night we were back on track!
With the crazy early start to flu season and everything else flying around, this may be helpful if you find yourself in a similar situation. Always, always, treat your child’s illnesses with comfort, attention, and assistance to help them through any discomfort until they are on the mend. But once that is over, help them understand that the family is back to following the sleep rules of the house.
And if you need help setting these boundaries or rules in place for your young children, I can help! Just set up a complimentary Let’s Get Acquainted phone call for me to learn a little more about your child’s sleep habits and we’ll take it from there.
I had the honor just last weekend to partner with Twin Cities Midwifery to speak with new parents about understanding sleep for newborns. Between my sleep consulting and my postpartum doula work, I spend a lot of time with brand new parents answering questions about sleep. And the ironic thing is, I get a lot of the same questions! Today I’m going to address some of these common questions about newborn sleep. Pass along to any of your friends who have just had a baby; or are expecting soon.
How much sleep should my newborn get?
Newborns pretty much spend their days and nights sleeping, eating, and pooping! The trouble is, the sleeping typically comes in small spurts because newborns need to eat frequently – typically every 2-3 hours. So as new parents, it is your job in these first weeks to focus on these three very important tasks with your baby. Newborn babies should get somewhere between 16-20 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period and its common for newborns to sleep about 2-3 hours at a time; which coincides with their feeding needs.
How long should my newborn stay awake during the day?
One of the biggest pieces of information I think many parents are missing is the importance of the “wake time” for a newborn. But if there is one thing you should remember as a parent of a newborn is that newborns can’t typically handle being awake longer than 60 minutes. Yep… only 60 minutes; and some babies can only handle about 45-50 minutes. This gives you just enough time to feed your baby, burp your baby, change their diaper, and maybe get 5-10 minutes of “play” time. Then its time to sleep again! If you can honor this one simple rule, your newborn will go to sleep so much easier!
Other than looking at the clock, how do I know when my baby is tired?
Every baby gives us cues that they are getting sleepy. The early cues are things like yawning, rubbing their eyes with their hands or rubbing their face into your shoulder, and staring off and/or no longer making eye contact with you. Later sleepy cues are things like an increase in fussiness, crying, and seeming a little more agitated or active. Your job as the parent is to start your baby’s sleep routine when you see the early cues.
Should I swaddle my newborn?
Swaddling is a fantastic tool for newborns because it helps them better control their reflexes. I’ve seen many babies, including my own, sleep longer stretches once they are swaddled. Most babies do well in a swaddle and if they don’t appear to like it immediately, give it a couple tries! And don’t be afraid to make it a little snug. If its too loose all it will do is create frustration for your baby because there is just enough looseness for them to wiggle their arms; but not get them out. Because many babies are learning to roll between 4-6 months of age, I do recommend weaning your baby from their swaddle at this time as well.
There is so much to learn and explore with your newborn. So above all else, enjoy this sweet, precious time! And even though there are many questions that come up, don’t doubt yourself. You have what it takes. Follow your intuition and you will be great!
In Tender Care,
I’ve been teaching my toddler workshop, Tacking Toddler Sleep, several times in the past few weeks and I get so many questions about knowing when and how to transition a toddler to a big kid bed. Its a BIG transition! Not only is it a new bed, but all this new freedom that a child needs to get used to can be fun — but also intimidating!
I’ll tell you right off the bat… many parents make the mistake of moving to a big kid bed too soon. Either because they fear their toddler climbing out of their crib, a new baby is on the way and they need the crib, or they just think it will be fun and exciting for their little one. Your first tip is:
Keep your toddler in their crib as close to 3 years of age as possible!
For many children, it isn’t until this age that they are able to understand the responsibility that comes along with being in a bed. If they’ve been sleeping in a crib, portable sleeper, or something similar, moving to a big bed that has no side rails and is bigger in size, canactually be overwhelming for a child. Even at age 3, this can be a really major transition.
Avoid making the move during other major toddler life changes.
Starting potty training? Moving to a new house? Starting a new daycare? New baby in the house? If any of these fit your situation, its probably a good time to wait it out. Asking your toddler to make several major changes all at once is a lot to expect. Focus on the first major change, and then get them into their big kid bed.
Keep your bedtime routine consistent.
Assuming you already have a set bedtime routine in place, try not to make any changes to it while your toddler is making the move. The more you can keep the rest of the process familiar, expected, and comfortable, the better you’ll have a toddler who is feeling confident and ready to sleep in a bigger bed.
Consider the location of the new bed.
Similar to keeping the bedtime routine consistent, it also may help to keep the room layout the same. Consider putting the new bed in the same place where the crib, portable sleep, etc. currently is in their room.
Another approach you can consider is to put the bed in the place of the crib, etc. but move the crib to the other side of the room temporarily. Then each night you can give your toddler the choice of which place they want to sleep. For toddlers who are really testing their independence, this is a great way to give them yet another choice that they get to control. Once they’ve begun to select the big bed consistently, make a celebration of moving the crib out of the room for good.
Don’t let the arrival of a new baby be your reason for the big move.
If your child isn’t ready to move to a big kid bed, the upcoming arrival of a new baby is not a good enough reason for the big move! Consider where your new baby will be sleeping the first few months. Chances are you won’t need that crib for the baby right away, anyway. Or, if you need two cribs for a short time see if you have a friend who isn’t using theirs anymore and borrow it for a few months.
There you have it! Moving to a big kid bed is truly exciting. But just remember that its a big world out there for your toddler and moving to a big bed with all that newfound freedom can come with a new set of sleep challenges. If you’ve already made the move and things aren’t going so well, it might be time to purchase your own toddler sleep package and I can help you keep your growing toddler in bed all night!
Share in the comments below what you have found to be helpful during this big transition for your toddler!
In Tender Care,