Sleep, for many parents, is a four-letter word. At around the age of four months, many babies stop falling blissfully asleep anywhere-and-everywhere, and naps and nighttime sleep – while perhaps already allusive – often become even more daunting.
Here are some common sleep mishaps to avoid: i.e. what NOT to do when your baby isn’t sleeping:
- Don’t…. give up on crib naps altogether:
Whether daytime sleep has been oblique since Day 1, or you have entered a new phase of naptime struggles, it can be very tempting to throw in the towel and revert to doing naps only on-the-go – in the car, a stroller, a baby carrier, etc. Resist the urge! While a car or carrier nap here-and-there is unlikely to throw a huge wrench in your baby’s sleep habits, making the majority of your little one’s naps on-the-go is likely to cause a dependency on sleep props such as motion (from a car or stroller), or sleeping on mom (in a carrier). It also means your baby is probably not getting all the healthy, deep, restful sleep they need throughout the day, because of short car rides, loud noises around them waking them from a stroller or carrier nap, etc.
Instead, have a consistent naptime routine, and try to have the majority of naps in the crib at home. If you do need to go out of the house during naptime (which we all do, sometimes!), try to ensure at least the first nap of the day is at home, as this sets the tone for the rest of the day’s (and night’s!) sleep.
- Try not to…. play the blame game:
As parents, we never want to think that our baby may just not have great sleep habits and, instead, we often look to any other possible cause for nap difficulties or nighttime wakes. Teething? Room temperature too low? Too hot? Pajamas not comfy? Problem is, if we are always blaming something other than improper sleep habits, we may never discover (and solve!) the root of our babies’ sleep challenges.
Ensure you have a great, consistent bedtime routine every night, so that your little one goes down with a full belly, in a comfy, safe, familiar environment, and then rest-assured that you have done everything you can to prepare your baby for sleep, so that you are not second-guessing yourself the whole night through. With regards to teething, try not to worry about this as a possible cause for a bad night. It may well be teething in some cases, but there is not a lot you can do about it and, if you start changing your rules every time you think your baby may be teething, you will create a very confusing message for your little one. If you give your baby teething medicine or homeopathic remedies, then do so before bed (and, if need be, in the middle of the night when the next dose is due) if you feel he is in pain and uncomfortable. Then, allow him to drift back off to sleep on his own.
- Avoid… only allowing your baby to fall asleep feeding or rocking:
If your baby has trouble falling asleep on her own, it can be very tempting to feed or rock her to a very drowsy state, or completely to sleep, before putting her in the crib. When this happens, though, you have introduced your baby to sleep props, and she will likely become dependent on these crutches to get to sleep, and to get back to sleep if she wakes from a short nap or during the night. When a baby falls asleep using a prop, such as rocking, and is then placed into the crib already asleep, she wakes in the night thinking “Whoa! Hold the phone! This is NOT how I went to sleep! Hey, Mom! Hey, Dad! I need to be rocked back to sleep again please!” Every. Single. Time.
If you are struggling to break sleep dependencies and teach your child to fall asleep on her own, one suggestion is to offer your little one a comfort item (if age-appropriate), such as a small, soft, cuddly toy or a soft toy animal head with a small blanket attached. Do your bedtime routine, with lots of snuggles and kisses goodnight, and then place your child into the crib awake with her comfort object, to allow her to sooth herself to sleep.
- Don’t… assume that no naps + a late bedtime = a good night’s sleep for baby:
If the biggest reason for baby’s nighttime wakes is sleep dependencies (see above), then the second-biggest reason is overtiredness at bedtime. It may seem counterintuitive, or against what your grandmother or mother-in-law is telling you, but exhausting your baby throughout the day and putting him to bed late is unlikely to see him sleeping through the night. Instead, it will probably result in bedtime difficulties and lots of wake-ups overnight. But, if you’re reading this, you probably already know that!
Instead, ensure your baby gets plenty of daytime rest with an age-appropriate number of naps, and a nice, early bedtime (between 6-8pm, depending on how naps went that day). A baby who goes to bed for the night well-rested and ready for sleep is better-able to fall into a deep, restful sleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
- Resist the urge to… run to your baby’s crib the moment he rustles or makes a peep:
Let your baby sleep! As parents, we are very much attuned to our babies’ needs, which – while wonderful – can also result in us actually disturbing their sleep. Like adults, babies often move and rustle around in their sleep, changing positions, getting more comfortable, and even making noises or yelling out in their unconscious state. Running to your baby to pick her up, replace a soother, provide a feed, or otherwise tend to her within moments of hearing her wake will not only cause an association for your baby that may not have otherwise developed (i.e. “I make noise and mom puts a bottle in my mouth. Cool!!”), but may also be waking your baby when she was, in fact, just making noises in her sleep. So, beware of your video monitor and the temptations it creates to respond to every single peep. And, give your baby some time when you hear her “wake,” to ensure you are not breaking the age-old rule: Don’t wake a sleeping baby!