What hasn’t been said about baby’s sleep? The internet is full of posts, myths and promises that the next method will work! Not to mention the neiboghor’s advice and the brother of the store manager down the block, who also has an opinion… so here are a few words from a professional that would help make it all clear.
This post was co-written with Chen Brazilai, the founder of “The inner voice for parents”, sleeping consultant and advisor and a behavioral analyzer.
I must say that personally it was difficult for me to accept some of the things written here (especially about falling asleep and nighttime feeding), but after a lot of thought and consultation I’ve realized that there are many different approaches and other methods than what I consider to be the absolute truth.
So let’s begin from the end – a baby needs to sleep. Apart from the survival aspect of the matter, sleep is also important for development. A baby who sleeps is a baby who is free to explore, understand, learn and develop.
And stating the obvious – parents also needs to sleep… parents who sleep are more patience, attentive and deals better with the big task known as parenthood. But this is for another post, especially for them.
Let’s focus on baby’s sleep on their first year of life, and later on we will focus on sleep until and from 4 months.
What are the factors contributing to a baby’s sleep?
1) A motor and sensory world – each child has its own temperament, motor development and an internal need for relaxation. Our job is to understand what will answer that need, whether it is touch or movement. For example, some children will only fall asleep in a baby cart or while being driven in a car. Those children are usually requiring a lot of movement, so we will try to address that need and supply movement in the waking hours (instead of night time). On the other hand, if your child does not like being driven in a car or baby cart, you should incorporate movement exercises in small doses, to accustom the body and make them feel more comfortable in their own body. The motor world has a great effect on the ability to relax and being comfortable in bed, a crucial step in the process of falling asleep independently for a whole night.
2) Sensory modulation – a child acquires sensory modulation in a process that continues from birth until adult life. Our reaction as parents has a profound effect on sensory modulation and the ability of the baby to contain frustration. Sensory modulation is achieved when a child experiences frustration that he can cope with. On the other hand, we need to be present and contain, reflect and assist with the coping process. Sensory modulation is built during sleep and waking hours, so in younger age you shouldn’t hurry lifting and hugging the child, trying to solve the problem quickly. You should try and calm the baby just by being present or using your voice, and later on by lifting and touching him. If there is a transition object that can help the child cope with the situation – even better. This is a stage that allows them to develop and grow.
3) Family dynamics and relationship – we are their parents, the child’s environment also affect his sleep. Do we trust them to get through the process of falling asleep alone? Can we be someone they can rely on when it’s difficult without causing confusion, just by being there using touch and voice?
4) Routine – everyone needs a routine, even our children. Waking hours, sleeping periods, signs of tiredness, all of those are relevant here. The internet is filled with different suggestions for sleeping periods. Chose one option and consider it as a range, an overall framework. Look for signs of tiredness (rubbing the eyes, pulling the ears, crying, scratching the nose, laying the head on a surface) – if you see any of those, take them to the bedroom, calm them, put them in bed in an “AFDR” condition (see ahead) and from there you will know what to do.
Baby’s sleep from birth until 4 months:
What’s important to know in the first few months of life?
1) Babies are born without a sense of night and day, which should change by the age of 6 weeks. They will start to sleep more at night and less during the day.
2) Though it is possible to accustom the baby to eat at regular feeding times in a very young age, it doesn’t always work. In this age you can also breastfeed by demand. With time it will be OK, as the baby will develop a more accurate hunger and satiety sensation.
3) You can try using a newborn sleeping bag or a nest. These supply an embrace and offer a wrapping sensation which calms the baby and helps him get a good night sleep.
4) Babies who sleep well in a baby cart but not in their beds are probably in need for a smaller bed or some movement. It’s OK allowing that at first, but later on it is best to understand what do they need exactly and address that need.
5) Routine – around 2 months, and some will say even earlier, it is recommended to start maintaining a proper routine. This means that when it is time for nighttime sleep, we start the routine of shower-feeding-falling asleep at fixed times. The benefit of this “magic hour” in the shower is specified in this post.
How to put a baby to sleep in the first few months of life?
In the first few months give them what they need, even if they fall asleep on your hands, during breastfeeding or on a physio ball. You can vary the context of sleep, and create additional ways and methods for the baby to fall asleep with. It is important to understand that every baby has its own temperament and different needs (for sleep and in general). We can assure you that no child will get used to something permanently. If a baby falls asleep a certain way than it is most probably feels a certain need that allows him to relax, feel safe and fall asleep. Later on when he grows a little and become more alert and communicative, you can adjust his sleeping habits to something more accurate and comfortable for you.
Baby’s sleep from 4 months and on:
In the age of 4 months there’s an exciting growth jump – the age of knowing begins, and the baby is more awake, more curious and seeks stimulations. And yes, it also affects sleep, they have trouble falling asleep and are more awake.
What to do? In the evenings we will provide a relaxation process before going to bed – a dark room, with a known routine. It’s important not to linger when you notice tiredness, so you won’t find yourself in a situation of “over tiredness” which will make it more difficult to fall asleep. During the day we will adjust stimulation exposure to be more gradual, so the baby can cope with it.
Around 5 months, infants can learn to fall asleep on their own. Remember that it can be different for each child – some can manage at 2 months to fall asleep alone and sleep through full nights (yes, somewhere there are infants like that), and some will get there a little later.
How do we know if that baby is ready to learn how to fall asleep on his own?
1) He can spend some time on a playing mat independently, and can calm himself, without needing any help from us.
2) He has means (which is not us) to calm himself– pacifier, blanket, a doll or a game, that would help him through this phase.
3) He cannot fall asleep in other ways, and is showing frustration.
And just as important – we need to be ready for the process.
What are the signs that we, as parents, are ready to let the baby fall asleep on his own?
1) We understand that the household needs change, because the current situation is difficult for everyone.
2) We trust them and ourselves that we can make it though, we will change our everyday habits and we will be there for them in every step of the way.
3) Involving more people that are in the baby’s life – partner, grandfathers, nanny. Anyone who takes care of the baby needs to be involved for the process to work.
How can we make the baby fall asleep on his own?
The base for a full night sleep is mostly falling asleep alone. This means that we lay the baby in his bed when he is wide awake, and he manages to fall asleep alone. Sounds like a dream right? It is possible. Trust us.
The recommendation is to put the child in bed when he is “AFDR“:
Full –after eating a good meal, and also when his motor needs are fulfilled – which means he got what he needed in his waking hours.
Dry – a new clean diaper.
Relaxed – can lie in bed quietly.
Before each night we do a short ceremony of relaxation – whether it’s on your hands or on the diaper changing mat. I recommend putting on music and dance, move around, relax, and then when they are calm, put them quietly in bed, and they will soon learn to fall asleep on their own.
What does that mean? That as long as they are not crying we will let them be in bed, because they are OK, they don’t need us. They have their pacifier or their transition object (a game can also be used as a transition object as long as it doesn’t make any noise or light). If the baby will start crying we will approach, and try to calm him in bed gently, with a light touch and just by being present. If they will calm down – great. They can continue on with falling asleep on their own.
If they are still crying and not settling down, than we will pick them up, calm them and put them back to bed again. Even if we did pick them up, we will try to keep quite. No lights, no leaving the room, without any extra activity or going to watch TV.
Learning to fall asleep alone is a skill like any other skill, and it takes time and patience. The process can take some time (varying from baby to baby) and you should be prepared.
It’s important to be consistent (not changing the method for calming or for falling asleep each day), patience, and most importantly – being there for a baby as an anchor. Our confidence goes through with a hug, touch and voice. We are there for them all the way.
What about other methods?
The internet is full of different methods, like the “60 second method”, gradual decrees of dependency and even joined sleeping. I believe everyone has their inner voice, every parents needs to learn what is right for them. When we are confident in what we are doing, it works and lasts for the long run. When we are starting to change sleeping methods we can drive our baby a little crazy. So think of this post as a proposal, a base, and take it to wherever fits you. Just stick with it, and wait for the change to arrive.
Should you let your baby cry? And if so – for how long?
The million-dollar question. Sleeping consulting and practice are always about crying and the question whether the baby should be left crying or not. It’s important to say that there are many different approaches, but in my opinion we will always need to address the crying. Baby’s crying is a form of communicating, a way to signal that they need us. I would love for them to know that we will always come back to calm them. Having said that – the way we do that is important. We will address the need with confidence, calmly and consistently. We will do this again and again, with a repeated mantra, even when the crying is hysterical. Eventually it will happen.
Does the baby need to eat at night?
There are a lot of opinions in this matter as well. Should we decrease night time feeding or not? Theoretically, until the age of 1 year, night-time feeding is legit for the baby and for us. It really depends on the parents and the baby. A child that’s gaining weight, falls asleep on his own and sleeps well throughout the day – does not need to eat every hour. For a child that is not gaining weight and does not eat properly throughout the day, I would get a pediatrician involved in the process, to understand how to go through from milk based nutrition to a solid based one.
If the baby can fall asleep on his own, he will not get up in the middle of the night?
The answer depends on the child and his ability to calm himself and go back to sleep.
All babies wake up in the middle of the night, it’s OK and it’s natural. The goal is mainly for them to go back to sleep independently as possible. But if he needs you to touch, stroke or say some calming words in order for him to go back to sleep– that’s OK as well. It’s part of building his confidence in the world and a sense of separation, which is normal. But, if he wakes up every hour and is having trouble going back to sleep, then we need to check why and address that need. If he wakes up just for a second, and he needs confidant, than we will give that feeling patiently.
In conclusion, baby’s sleep is one of the most time consuming topics there is. The internet is full of information, parents with one special trick that help them and lots of consultants. The important thing is that the child is yours, and every one is a bit different.
If you will read this post again, and remember to work with your inner voice in mind, you will help them become more relaxed, confidant and to learn the skill of falling asleep alone.