Having trouble getting your baby to sleep? Or to sleep well? Studies have shown that new moms lose a total of 44 days of sleep on average during the first year of their baby's life and are "dangerously exhausted". Because sleep deprivation has been linked to parental postpartum depression - both in mothers and fathers - it's important for families to try to create healthier sleep habits from the very beginning. When it comes to changing sleep habits and improving your baby's sleep cycles though, it can feel overwhelming knowing where to begin. But you don't have to make major changes to get a bit more sleep - or even to get your baby to sleep through the night. These are the top 4 most common infant sleep pitfalls and how to fix them:
Not creating a routine
As time consuming or exhausting as it can be after a long day, having a consistent bedtime (and even nap time) routine can be really helpful in cueing your little one in that it’s time to sleep. Research also shows that routines are an overall key factor in early childhood wellness. Routines don’t need to be elaborate, but the same sequence of events each time is ideal. Your routine can include a bath and/or quick lotion massage, changing into a new diaper and pajamas, feeding (or bedtime snack, if age appropriate), reading a book or two, singing a short lullaby or two and then laying down to sleep.
Keeping baby awake too late or too long
Depending on their age, babies have a sweet spot for how long they can comfortably stay awake and when they should be headed for sleep. This is true even for babies who don’t appear to have an “off” switch. If you wait too long, you miss the sleepy hormones and get the adrenaline ones instead. Similar to how you get a second wind if you stay awake too long at night. This can lead to an overtired baby who could wake more frequently or have more trouble settling to sleep on their own.
Hanging on to sleep crutches that are no longer working
As newborns, many babies can be soothed to sleep with rocking, feeding or rubbing their bellies - and then still sleep well after. But for many babies, these sleep "crutches" become troublesome as they get older because they learn to rely only on their parent's help to get to – and back to – sleep each time. Since babies wake multiple times each night as they transition from one sleep cycle to the next, this can lead to exhausted parents. It’s definitely ok to soothe as part of the bedtime routine but around 4-6 months it’s best to try to stop the soothing early enough that they're still awake and can begin to learn to settle on their own. Remember, the path to self soothing starts with laying baby down while she is “sleepy, but not asleep”.
Giving up too soon
Once you identify and begin to address bad sleep habits, it’s important that you remain patient and consistent. Many parents will try their hand at sleep coaching and then give in after some crying and put baby to sleep as usual. This can create even MORE crying the next go around. Additionally, although some – typically more adaptable – babies can make big progress in just a few days, it often takes 2-3 weeks to see consistent progress. This is especially true for more spirited children, if you’re trying to limit crying as much as possible or if you're trying to change habits that have been in place for longer (ie, older babies).
With that in mind, often the hardest part about getting your baby on a healthy schedule or changing bad sleep habits is staying consistent – even when it’s hard and you're exhausted. If you’re looking for more support and nurturing guidance to develop a healthy sleep habits plan for your family and to help you stay the course when the going gets tough, be sure to check out my services page here.
Jen is a Licensed Professional Counselor (DC) and Nationally Certified Professional Coach specializing in maternal wellness, relationship strength and infant soothing and sleep. At MOMMY-SOS, she helps new parents thrive through both in home and remote consultations and counseling. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Jennifer Howard, CLC, CHBE
As a maternal mental health and pediatric sleep expert, I am passionate about helping tired mamas thrive throughout the many seasons of motherhood. I'm a Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach and Masters Level Therapist specializing in parental mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and pediatric sleep and soothing.
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