This article has is written by Natalie Herman from https://www.natalieherman.com
It’s so hard to know when you actually have a problem with your baby’s sleep. Many parents are undecided as to whether it is just a phase or a ‘regression’ rather than a sleeping habit that actually needs to be corrected through gentle sleep training.
According to many of my clients, the reason for this demise in their baby’s sleep is associated with teething, illness, jet lag, even change in weather patterns or the famous ‘regression’. I have to gently explain to them that a regression cannot possibly happen at every age between newborn and one year, it is more often a poor negative sleeping habit that needs to be changed.
A common precursor to bad sleeping habits, is always allowing your baby to fall asleep in your arms. Who wouldn’t feel compelled to do this? It gives you a sense of closeness and comfort and you get the end result, a sleeping baby. Some parents do this because they don’t like to hear their baby cry, or are worried the cries may wake sleeping siblings. However, if you allow this to happen all the time, it becomes the only mechanism they have at their disposal in order to get to sleep. It is up to you as the parent to help them learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Bad sleep habits can also result from one parent having a different view from the other on whether there is actually a sleeping problem. There may be resentment from the parent who is waking at night to attend to the baby. Differences in parenting styles can also cause a lot of conflict. One parent may have had a very different upbringing to the other, which often influences how they then parent. Differing opinions will often lead to a delay in seeking help, such as through a sleep consultant, because one parent may take longer to realise the need for intervention and support from a professional.
Sometimes using friends or family as a yardstick can lead to bad sleep habits. As new parents, we often listen to our friends and family who may trivialise negative sleeping habits and say they are normal. This is usually just a way of them supporting their own decisions and has nothing to do with you and your family. What’s ‘normal’ for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fine for you. For example, many parents take their babies out for dinner and then transfer them at 11pm when they get home. However, if you don’t have an easily transferable baby, it means a night of restless sleep for all. It’s very hard to separate yourself from your friends and admit you have an issue when they may not.
I believe getting the right advice early on feeding can help minimize bad sleeping habits. There are rarely clear guidelines as to how often you should be feeding whether it’s breastfeeding or bottle feeding so mothers can fall in to a ‘demand feeding’ schedule just because they don’t know any differently. Often this lack of routine leads to many sleep issues where the only mechanism a mother has to get their baby to sleep is to feed them. If they had had better guidance from day 1 this may not have happened.
There is also increasing pressure for parents to attend baby classes. If you have an easy-going baby that is quite adaptable and social, then such activities are great. However, it may not suit if your child is more sensitive and needs a strict routine in order to sleep well. In these circumstances many parents leave their baby to sleep in the pram or on the go in the car and then suffer for it at night because their baby hasn’t slept well all day. They may have had a chance to meet other mothers in a fun baby class but at what expense to their baby’s sleep?
Parents will often not identify a bad sleeping habit, instead conceding that it is simply their baby’s temperament. I often hear things like ‘Oh my baby would never sleep past 5.30am ever. He just gets up early every day and we now all go to bed early as a result.’ Or, ‘My baby never naps during the day he’s just got too much energy,’ or, ‘My first was like this, so my second is just the same’. Parents can feel a bit defeated and truly believe there is nothing they can do about it. There is no reason to think this way. A very small percentage of babies do not need much sleep, but the majority does.
I believe it is imperative that there is some sort of routine for your baby, otherwise it is difficult to decipher whether their cries are because they’re hungry, tired or want to be held. As a parent you want to be able to identify when they are tired so that you can put them to bed and develop a healthy sleeping pattern.
If for the past month your baby is waking up every night at least 2-3 times then I recommend you consider starting some gentle sleep training. It will involve some dedicated time focusing on your baby’s sleep, but it will be life changing for you and your family. Sleep training should be tailored to your family and leave you feeling empowered to handle any sleep issue your baby may have.