Regardless of your chosen parenting method, there’s one thing everyone can agree on when it comes to raising a child: Sleep is important.
It’s important for you and it’s especially important for your baby, whose brain is undergoing a developmental marathon. However, for families with a little one in the house, it often doesn’t come easy, leaving sleep-deprived parents desperate for a cure to bedtime troubles.
Fortunately, poor sleep doesn’t have to be a chronic problem for families with small children. With consistency and a good routine — and perhaps a little outside help — it’s possible to support your baby’s natural sleep rhythms and leave everyone in the household feeling rested and refreshed.
A Good Foundation
The term “sleep training” can be controversial in some parenting circles, but in reality, starting with good sleep habits at the get-go can set your infant up to be a good sleeper for life. According Maggie Moore, pediatric sleep consultant at Get Moore Sleep, which serves the Indianapolis area, the first step is to practice safe sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines include laying the baby on his back on a firm surface, such as a bassinet or crib, with no soft bedding for the first year. Moore also emphasizes establishing a routine where your child can get about 12 hours of sleep per night.
Parents need to let go of the expectations that their infant is going to sleep through the night. “Some babies do,” Moore says, “but for the majority, that just isn’t the reality.” However, if at about 4 to 6 months, you start becoming concerned about your child’s sleep habits, you may want to reach out to a sleep consultant, like Moore, for sleep-training help.
Common Sleep Issues
Moore begins seeing sleep-training clients at 16 weeks adjusted age (that is, 16 weeks from the projected due date) with clearance from the child’s pediatrician. There are two main sleep issues she addresses in children under 2 years old:
- Sleeping independently. They may take short naps and wake often throughout the night. They need mom or dad to connect the sleep cycles by feeding, rocking or holding, particularly for lengthy amounts of time.
- Poor napping. Going too long between naps can leave a child to feel overtired, meaning they nap too long or have a hard time falling and staying asleep.
When Moore meets with her clients, she presents a variety of different sleep training methods, from the more strict “cry it out” method, where the baby is left to self-soothe for long periods of time, to the gentler “pick up, put down” method, where there are verbal and physical check-ins at timed intervals. “I always ask the client what their goals are, and most of the time it’s to get their child to sleep better so they are healthier and better rested,” Moore says. From there, she encourages them to choose the method they’re most comfortable with so they can be consistent in their routine.
“I think of the sleep as a picture of a table, where one leg is sleep training and the other is schedule,” she says. “If you have a child who will put themselves to sleep but doesn’t have a good schedule, they’ll protest more. You need both in place to have a healthy sleep foundation.”
Sleep Training Misconceptions
Sleep training isn’t for every family. Some parents identify with a parenting philosophy that doesn’t support sleep training, or they fear it could negatively affect the child. “As long as what you’re doing is safe … I want to support you in that,” Moore says. However, as a mother who suffered from postpartum depression, she understands how professional help can greatly improve the mother’s mental health and a family’s quality of life.
If you’re considering sleep training, but still have some reservations about it, here are some ideas that may ease your mind:
- Sleep training is not necessarily “cry it out.” If you’re feeling pressured by a provider to practice a type of sleep training that doesn’t feel right or align with your values, then consider finding one who can be more supportive.
- Sleep training won’t come without tears. “Every time you do something different with your child, there will be protesting,” Moore says. If you feel guilt or disappointment that your child cries when trying to implement a new schedule, give yourself grace and be confident that what you’re doing will be better for your family in the long run.
- Let go of the idea that sleep comes naturally. Many things in our culture, from artificial lighting to the food we eat, can play a role in poor sleep. However, by establishing a good foundation for sleep, you can foster your child’s natural sleep rhythms.
With a little help, you and your baby may be able to stop counting sheep and start looking forward to a restful night’s sleep.