There are SO many popular sleep-coaching methods to choose from. And, if you seek advice on your Facebook moms group, from your local friends or from sleep coaching books and blogs, you are likely to get very different – and very strongly held – points of view about which one is best. But, when you’re sleep deprived and foggy brained, it can all feel way too overwhelming…making it hard to choose an option or to even get started.
But, there is hope! Depending on your baby’s temperament and adaptability, you may not even need to sleep coach in order to improve their sleep habits. If you heard the previous episode, then you know all the ways sleep deprivation can negatively impact your family and you may even be ready to take steps toward sleep coaching. But even if you’re not ready yet, or just unsure which one method is right for your family (note: it’s likely a mixture of several methods and I can help you figure it out!), taking these 5 easy steps will help to set your whole family up for success and put you on the path to better sleep:
First, Keep a sleep and feeding log
When I’m approached by a friend with a quick sleep question or working with a client, taking a close look at their baby’s schedule is the VERY first step I take. A schedule can truly make or break a baby’s ability to sleep well and a sleep and feeding log can give you all the information you need to know if things need to be tweaked. Using a sleep log also gives you individualized information since tracking your baby’s natural patterns - before you make any other changes - will help you get a better idea of their personal sleep needs and help you spot any potential red flags in their schedule. For instance, are they waking too early and then crashing at 7am for their first nap? Or napping too much during the day and not able to stay asleep after bedtime? Not eating often enough in the evening and waking just a few hours into the night?
Once you have tracked 3-4 days with your baby then you can compare the log to the recommended sample schedules in my free “Sample Baby Schedules” E-book to get a better idea of how your baby’s current schedule fits in with what is expected or typical at their age and begin to make any potential adjustments. I’ll link to the e-book in the show notes for you and definitely recommend you go ahead and grab it. It’s totally free and just by reading over the guidelines and recommended schedules, you can ensure that your baby is on an age appropriate and consistent schedule. Truly, it is often the very first step toward better sleep!
Next, Create a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine
All babies (and older children) benefit from having a soothing bedtime ritual with their favorite people (you!). The actual steps can vary, based on what works best for your family, but it should be calming in nature. For instance, I work with a lot of working moms who have very little time between when they come home and their baby’s bedtime. If this is you, then the routine may be as simple as: feeding, swaddle, and rocking/snuggles. If you have more time - and your baby isn’t totally riled up by bath time, then you may want to incorporate that into your routine as well. Your toddler’s routine is likely to be a bit longer, but they also typically go to bed a bit later. Something as routine as having a bedtime snack, using the potty, brushing teeth, reading a couple of books and snuggling would be perfect. No matter what routine you settle on though, it’s actually the predictable sequence of events that babies and toddlers come to count on as a signal that it’s time for sleep.
Next, evaluate your baby’s environment
Creating a soothing sleep environment can also make a huge difference in how well (or how poorly) your baby sleeps. Does your baby wake often, too early or have short naps? There are many common reasons for these trouble spots and making simple adjustments to your baby’s sleeping environment can actually alleviate many of them. For instance, if your baby is sensitive to noise, then they are much more likely to wake if you or your partner wake early for work, if you’re sharing a room or if you just have a rowdy toddler in the house.
White noise is my magic cure for all of this - and I literally could not be a bigger fan. I’m sure that any family I’ve worked with or friend of mine would co-sign on this. My entire family - both kids and parents - use white noise every single night. We travel with it (on our phones) and all sleep so much better with it. If you don’t have a white noise machine in your baby’s room, get one today or download an app to your phone to give it a free try! Also, I’ve heard it all when it comes to objections about white noise, but I encourage you to give it a try. Be sure to check out my article for common white noise mistakes - and how to avoid them! It is my most popular blog article to date.
Additionally, If your baby’s room gets too much light in the morning or from street lights at night, then they’re also much more likely to wake. Adding black out blinds or curtains can help keep your baby in a deeper state of sleep and prevent waking from those common distractions. My daughter was extremely sensitive to light and would wake as soon as the sun came up until she was about 6 years old. So we’ve kept black out curtains and blinds in her room until just recently.
Next, Identify your baby’s sleep props
So this is also a crucial piece of the puzzle - and one we’ll talk about in detail in the coming weeks. But, when it comes to improving your baby’s sleep you have to first identify what their sleep props are. For instance, do you feed your baby to sleep and then have to feed them back to sleep each time they wake? Do you need to replace the pacifier? Snuggle or rock? While these things are totally ok (and encouraged) with your newborn baby, anything your older baby or toddler “needs” to fall to sleep can become a sleep prop. Trust me, your toddler does not need to eat at night and your baby can sleep without needing to be rocked!
Now, it’s important to point out that if you feed your baby to sleep or rock them each night and they don’t wake OR their wakings aren’t bothering you, then do YOU. I am not here to tell you how to parent your baby - that is for sure. But if you’re exhausted and you know you need a change, then this is a major step in getting the sleep you need and feeling normal again. Even so, you don’t necessarily need to do formal sleep coaching to begin to fade away your baby’s sleep props. Simply by identifying what the potential props allows you to view them in a different way and to slowly offer them less and less.
Finally, Check in with your pediatrician
Typically sleep troubles are behavioral in nature, but sometimes babies wake frequently because of a medical reason. For instance, reflux, food allergies, sleep apnea, teething pain and ear infections, and growth spurts can all lead to more frequent waking. If your baby was sleeping fine but starts to wake more frequently, then they may just be going through a developmental leap or growth spurt (these typically last no more than a week or so). BUT seeking the guidance of your pediatrician is the best way to rule any of these out – and to get the OK for sleep coaching, if you decide that’s the step you want to move in moving forward.
Ok, so there you have it - the 5 steps you can take right now to improve your baby’s sleep. And if you want to take an even closer look at these or you’re ready to take the plunge into getting better sleep for your family, then I definitely want you to join my FREE 5 day “Save our Sleep” Challenge. In it, we dig really deep into each of these and explore together how to improve your baby’s sleep. As part of the private Facebook Group, you’ll also gain a community of other mothers in the challenge and get direct access to me to ask your own personal questions along the way! It’s all FREE, so what do you have to lose? Click the link below and reserve your spot!
Disclaimer: Although Jennifer Howard is a licensed therapist, this podcast - or any information listed on this site - is not a substitute for therapy. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum or perinatal mental health disorders, please seek assistance from your local emergency room or schedule an appointment with a therapist licensed in your state. Postpartum Support International also has a wealth of information and local support for new parents. You can call their Helpline (1-800-944-4773) or text (503-894-9453) anytime for support.
Jennifer Howard, LPC, CLC, CHBE
A licensed therapist and pediatric sleep expert shares her infant and toddler sleep & maternal mental health expertise through weekly solo shows and interviews.