We’ve heard – and seen – it all. When it comes to baby sleep, everyone and their aunt has a suggestion or judgement to pass along – a “tried and true” trick to get your wee one to sleep. We’re sorry to say it, but many are outdated, quick fixes that will only leave you and your little back at square one – and even more tired. Here’s what you might hear, and the suggestions we’d rather you listened to instead!
- Nap On-the-Go
Babies will sleep wherever, whenever they’re tired. Right? WRONG. Whether daytime sleep has been elusive since day 1, or you have entered a new phase of nap-time nightmare, it can be very tempting to throw in the towel and revert to doing naps only on-the-go – in the car, stroller, baby carrier, etc. Resist the urge! While a car or carrier nap here-and-there seems like an easy fix, 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 that your baby is probably not getting all the healthy, deep, restful sleep he or she needs throughout the day. Short car rides, loud noises around them and inconsistent movement are all likely to rouse your wee one.
Instead, have a consistent nap-time 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 nap time (which we all do, sometimes!), try to ensure that 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.
- It’s Probably Something Else
As parents, we never want to think that our baby may just not have great sleep habits. 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.
What can you do? 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. No more second-guessing yourself the whole night through! Try not to worry about teething 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 (s)he is in pain and uncomfortable. Then, allow him or her to drift back off to sleep on his or her own.
- Feed & Rock to Sleep
If your baby has trouble falling asleep on his or her own, it can be very tempting to feed or rock to a very drowsy state, or completely to sleep, before putting babe in the crib. When this happens, though, you have introduced your baby to sleep props, and (s)he will likely become dependent on these crutches to get to sleep, and to get back to sleep if (s)he 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, when they wake in the night they think “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 his or 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 his or her comfort object, to allow self-soothing to sleep.
- Less Day Sleep + Late Bedtime = More Night Sleep
If the biggest reason for baby’s nighttime wakes is sleep dependencies (see above), then the second-biggest reason is over tiredness 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 or her to bed late is unlikely to lead to 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 6-8 p.m., 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.
- Peeps & Pop-Ins
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 him or her up, replace a soother, provide a feed, or otherwise tend to baby within moments of hearing a wake noise 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 (s)he was, in fact, just making noises in his or her sleep. So, beware of your video monitor and the temptation it creates to respond to every single peep. Give your baby some time when you hear him or her “wake,” to ensure you are not breaking the age-old rule: don’t wake a sleeping baby!
Not all advice is created equal. Despite well wishes, make sure the advice you take when it comes to your wee one’s sleep is truly tried and true! Questions? You know who to call;)