How To Help Your Baby Sleep
Part One: How I Approach A Sleep Difficulty
No baby or toddler wants to be awake at 3am! Not really.
In my work as a night nanny whenever i have been up at night at this time or any other The majority of the time that little one wants to be sleeping! They are rarely happy to be awake at that time. Unless i can figure out the reason why they are awake and remedy the situation quickly, i can tell you for sure they quickly show you that they find being awake at 3, 4 and 5 am just as difficult as we do!
So if they hate being awake just as much as us grown ups why do they wake up so often overnight and what can we do to change that? If your baby is really struggling with sleep there is always a reason why? Anything and everything in your baby's world can have an impact on their sleep.
Firstly understanding what normal infant sleep looks like is important. The baby sleep industry has boomed in recent years selling parents the dream ( pardon the pun) that baby sleep is linear and that sleep training is necessary because a baby or toddler not sleeping through the night is inconvenient ( which it is, lets be real) and abnormal! Which it is not. But i have found that if your little one is struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep there is always a reason or cause for it and a gentle solution to it as well, you don’t always have to resort to ‘sleep training’ to improve how your baby sleeps.
I have found looking for the cause of the sleep struggle is the first step in finding a solution to night waking however as you can imagine there are many many reasons why a little one will wake at night.
The main one being that learning to sleep independently is a process. It’s a skill being able to easily fall asleep on your own! All babies can sleep they just need help getting to sleep sometimes. But along with learning to sleep more and more independently there are other causes of sleep difficulties.
Some are more obvious; your little one may be hungry, they’re cold, they’re too warm, they have wind, they need a nappy change. So you do what you need to do and then sometimes they need help getting back to sleep.But what about when none of those obvious issues are the cause of sleep waking, or difficulty getting to sleep, then what?
You might decide to keep a diary( I highly reccomend you do this!!) or journal and log behaviour, wakings, naps, feeds etc. Keeping note of everything over a period of days. And you have all this information in front of you after a few days of careful monitoring & recording. But what does it all mean? You may be asking yourself ‘how can i identify the cause of sleep resistance in my little one from the info i have in front of me’.
In all my years of working with mums and babies overnight i have found the key to helping your little sleep well consistently is in our expectations as parents and what we understand about our little ones and how they sleep.
I have noticed a common thread with all the parents i have come across who have sound little sleepers. Their littles ones sleep wasn’t always “ perfect” and still isn’t but more often than not they’re little ones sleep habits were & are predictable and manageable. These mums in particular seemed to have either learnt or come to understand these 3 things.
For a little one, being able to ‘’sleep through the night” independently is a skill to learn. And skills take practise to master. Much like learning to walk and talk and eat, Learning to get to sleep by themselves is a skill to be learnt. Babies are born already knowing how to sleep. It’s getting to sleep without needing help that some need help with.And that’s perfectly normal well into toddler hood and beyond.
How a little one sleeps and falls asleep is a mixture of their nature and nurture. It’s is natural and normal for your baby or toddler to struggle with sleeping at times. You can influence how they sleep with associations habits & routine in line with their unique personality/temperament. Some little ones find falling asleep effortless, they can just nod off no matter what’s going on on where they are, others find sleep much more challenging and need more help nodding off
There are reasons that little ones will struggle with sleep at times no matter how tired they are. For little ones the first 2 years of life are a huge learning curve and there will be times when they will really struggle with sleep which are completely normal and part of parcel of growing and developing from a baby to a child. If mums know and understand these factors that can interfere with sleep. You can plan ahead and prevent them occurring or quickly tackle them and help your little ones so that sleep deprivation doesn’t become an ongoing problem.
Those reasons or causes for sleep difficulties are just some of the more common sleep struggles I’ve come across and I have found they usually fall into one or more of four categories that I call the Real Thieves of Sleep!!
As your little one grows and develops on an Emotional, intellectual and physical level there will be times when how they are developing in those areas can have a negative impact on sleep. On top of that where they sleep and also factors within their day to day living and their world around them can also impact on sleep too. My goal in the work that i do is to raise awareness of what normal infant sleep looks like and showing mums ( and dads too) that what your little one may or may not do sleep wise is quite normal and can be overcome with some loving care, attention,planning and knowledge. I also think that modern culture and the growth of the baby sleep industry and the experts that's come with it are also responsible for some of the the misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations that some parents have of their little ones sleep wise. Parents have been made to believe that how our little ones sleep is a problem that needs to be fixed ( but that a whole other blog post)
My background in childcare includes working as a nursery nurse in daycare here in the Uk and we have a specific framework that we use when we are planning helping the children we care for to learn through play. We look are the child's areas of development and where we can help them build on the skills that we see emerging. With Under 2s we focus on 3 Prime Areas of learning and development.
Personal, social & Emotional Development
Communication & Language
When i was studying for my NNEB certificate to become a nursery nurse years ago, we would look at the areas of development and how we could help babies and young children to develop using the acronym PILES
I - Intellectual
L - Language
E - Emotional
Children needed help to develop in the above areas in order to grow learn develop , form relationships and eventually become adults who can be functioning members of society. When looking at sleep i realised a lot of the struggles that babies and toddlers would have would fall into the categories of Physical struggles or needs, emotional needs and development, habits, preferences and struggles on an intellectual level and also the environment and world around that little one.
My own acronym for sleep difficulties or the Real Thieves of Sleep as i like to call them are:
P - Physical Sleep thieves
I - Intellectual Sleep Thieves
E - Emotional Sleep Thieves
S/E - Social/Environmental Sleep Thieves
If your little one is struggling or fighting or resisting sleep it’s very likely that the reason or reasons will fall into one of the above categories.
I want to share with you the method i use when tackling sleep struggles so that you can be your babies own personal sleep expert and help your baby become a sound little sleeper too.
Read up any posts that have the sleep thieves hashtag to help you when you analyse your logs to determine what the cause of the sleep struggle are for your little one. Look at the behaviours and cues described and see how they compare to what you have recorded about your little one