One of the hardest parts of parenting babies is dealing with sleep issues. Even babies who originally slept soundly will go through times when they never seem to want to sleep at all — or at least not when anybody wants them to.
Here are ten tips to keep in mind when dealing with sleep issues and your little one.
1. Know it’s normal. Is your 6 month old not sleeping through the night? Most don’t! While some babies seem to crash for enormous stretches of time, that’s not usual. Pay no attention to people who talk about their babies sleeping through the night and act like yours should be too. In the first place, the definition of “through the night” is often from midnight to 5 a.m. In the second place, it differs from infant to infant and there’s nothing you can do about it. Breastfed babies tend to sleep for shorter periods of time, too, because breastmilk is easier on their tummies and is quickly digested. And yes, it is common for children over 12 months to still be waking at least once in the night.
2. Find your own path. Never listen to anybody who tells you that you have to do ____ or your children will be ruined forever. The perfect sleep arrangement for you and your baby may be co-sleeping, a crib side-car attached to the bed or a crib simply near the bed. Most babies sleep better if they’re co-sleeping with mom (especially in the early months), but some prefer their own space.
3. Make noise and breathe heavy. Do you have a baby who awakens the moment you put him down? What works for many babies is to make little sleepy noises as you ease them down. They’re used to a little movement and noise from us. Sleepy noise and heavy breathing often get them back into a sleep state very nicely. Keep your face close by and breathe and murmur just a little bit until his breathing is regular again. Since babies tend to synchronize their breathing to ours, they’ll often quite naturally match your sleepy breathing and fall back asleep.
4. Have empathy. Yes, it can feel nearly unbearable to deal with a little one who’s on a sleep strike or keeping you up all night. Drawn out bedtime battles can make us nuts, and being sleep deprived ourselves our tempers are often shorter than usual. Try to put yourself in your child’s place, though, and understand how she feels. Babies often wake and cry because of colic, teething or plain old loneliness. Sometimes they’re too hot, uncomfortable or in pain and have no way but wails to let us know. Little ones also fight bedtime because they really miss us and want that extra time with us, even if it’s with mom or dad mad at them.
We’ve all had nights where we just didn’t want to be alone or couldn’t get to sleep no matter how hard we’ve tried. Sometimes life is especially hard and you need someone to be there, especially when you have no way to meet your needs yourself. The more you can remember that, the easier it is to keep things in perspective.
5. Sling them to sleep. For many parents, a cozy sling or fleece pouch can be a lifesaver. Try putting baby in the sling and then walking or dancing around. They’ll often nod right off, generally in just a few minutes. You can also find slings and pouches all over the net or even make your own.
6. Know your naps. Remember that babies will need fewer naps as they grow. First they nap off and on, then perhaps have a morning and afternoon nap, then an afternoon one, and eventually none. Every child is different. As they grow, they need fewer hours of sleep. If your child is fighting sleep at night, it may be because she’s still taking long naps during the day that she no longer needs. On the other hand, skipping naps completely can lead to overtired kids who spend the last few hours of the day unbearably cranky and then get a second wind. If your little one seems to be going to sleep too late at night, try shortening her nap in the afternoon and gently waking her after an hour or so. Be sure that you’re not making bedtime so late that it’s after she’s already got her second wind, too.
7. Look for sensory solutions. Most of us have certain conditions that we have to have in order to sleep well. There has to be a fan running or total dark or a heavy blanket. Babies can have the same sensory needs. Swaddling helps some babies drift off easier, for instance, while it aggravates other babies. Be sure pajamas are soft enough (without scratchy tags or seams), the room is warm or cool enough, and their needs for dark (or light) and sound (or silence) are met. Don’t worry that you’ll set them up to need “crutches” later on if you find something that helps them sleep. Babies often go through stages of needing soft light, background noise or pitch dark to sleep best, and these all changed as they grow. Soft music, a burbling night toy or even a white noise machine may help your little one drift off easier, too.
8. Read up. There are some great books that offer lots more information. The Baby Sleep Book by Dr. Sears and The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley are both highly recommended.
9. Nap when baby naps. Every mother hears this advice and almost every mother ignores it. We have so much to do, so much to catch up on, so little time to ourselves, that it seems wasteful and wrong to sleep during those down times. Let go of that thinking and join your little one in sleeping. It will help your mood, your health and your sanity, plus it will let you be far more productive during the rest of the time.
10. Remember it will pass. When you’re sleep deprived and your baby is on a bedtime strike, it can seem like you’ll never sleep again. All little ones go through stages where they fight sleep, change their sleep patterns, wake more often and so on. Things will level out again soon. Babies go through sleep changes when they’re teething, going through a developmental growth spurt or when their routines have been altered. It will get better. It may not seem like it at 3 a.m., but it’s always a good idea to remember that number one parenting mantra: “This too shall pass.”
“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.”
~Leo J. Burke