I frequently get phone calls from sleep deprived parents asking for my help, explaining the routine they are currently using and what they would like to achieve with the new routine and then they add…. “But, I don’t want any crying…my husband and I don’t cope with it”.
I completely understand this request and my aim is to empower the parents with the skills to improve their baby/toddlers routine without any crying or distress and sometimes this happens at the first sleep but sometimes this isn’t possible. In the case of the newborn baby up to age of about 3 months we are often ‘fine-tuning’ the routine with efficient uptimes, downtimes and the bedroom environment and they basically look at us and say “thank goodness someone knew what I needed!” and go to sleep without a murmur.
In other cases the baby needs a few days to settle into the new routine, respond to the new cues and learn to self-settle in their own bed. We need to remember that baby is intelligent and has only responded to the regular cues and routines that you have initiated since birth. What you have been doing was ‘working’ for everyone until now and while we have valid reasons for changing the routine baby doesn’t know we are going to change anything and so sometimes they are going to protest!
Case study: Baby around 4-6 weeks old.
Presents as very unsettled during the day and night, 20-45 minute day sleeps, often will only sleep on mum’s chest or in someone’s arms, in sling or in bed with mum and dad. Refuses to sleep in the cot/bassinette, mum feels stuck at home because baby will not sleep in stroller either. Baby isn’t feeding very well, fussing a lot and is particularly unsettled after feeds, will usually feed best when going to sleep. Mum and dad suspect reflux or colic. Parents have tried the dummy with limited success, baby is wrapped for all sleeps but gets out of it frequently.
Goals for baby:
Relaxed feeds, enjoys playtime, provides obvious tried signs, appreciates cues for sleep, calm going into bed and self-settles to sleep. Enjoys personal sleep requirement and wakes happy and hungry for the next feed and ready to play again……
We look at the bedroom environment, make the feeding and playtime more efficient, remove the props that prevent self-settling, identify baby’s tired signs and when baby is ready for bed, fine tune the wrapping technique and provide baby with some new cues for sleep.
*Once in bed baby may start to whinge/talk on and off like a ‘rollercoaster’ for a few minutes. A whinge is noise that you feel comfortable with and sound like they are self-settling, mum and dad feel happy to stay outside the room because baby isn’t upset and the whinging is getting progressively quieter. A short time later baby is quiet and asleep. Baby ends up sleeping for 2 hours without waking because they are comfortable and their environment is encouraging a restful sleep.
*Once in bed baby recognizes instantly that the going to sleep environment is different and starts to cry and protest asking for the usual routine to go to sleep. This is completely normal for baby to cry and ask for help, they don’t know how to do it themselves and have been relying on you for help. The aim is for baby to self settle so we cannot afford to be putting baby to sleep, we need to just get them calm and show them they can put themselves to sleep. The baby that requires help with the self-settling will usually wake at the 40-45 minute mark and require some more settling from mum and dad to go back to sleep and for another 40-45 minute sleep cycle. Over approximately a week, with consistency and persistency from mum and dad baby will learn how to self-settle without our help. The ability to self-settle will enable baby to sleep through the night when they are developmentally ready to do so.
Case Study: 9 month old.
Presents as enjoying milk feeds, usually feeding to sleep. Has started solids but not always eating well. Mainly fruits and vegetables, cereals and pasta, rice. Rolling on the floor, not crawling yet, but standing up in the lounge room and in the cot. Has started whinging on the floor so has been offered extra time in swings, walkers, jolly jumper or is being carried around a lot. Getting out of wrap in bed and standing up in cot. Starts off going to sleep in own cot but wakes frequently screaming at mum and dad until dummy is given back, given a feed or brought into their bed. If sleeps in the cot all night is awake at 5-6am and wanting to get up and start the day.
Goals for baby:
Baby enjoys family meals with finger food in high chair, has an appropriate amount of milk feeds for age, is crawling and exploring the house earning a great sleep, self settles to sleep in the cot, sleeps soundly all night and wakes around 7am for breakfast..
Look at the bedroom environment, encourage appropriate floor play. Increase the amount of protein in the diet and discuss mutually agreeable time for milk feeds. Introduce a sleeping bag, Encourage self-settling in the cot without the dummy, discourage coming into mum and dads bed, reduce the ‘rewards for waking’.
Once in bed baby will protest cry or even scream. After 9 months of previous habits and bedtime routines everything has changed and baby is not happy, they know exactly what they want! It’s very important to acknowledge this and provide ‘hands-on’ reassurance with baby, along with consistency and persistency. Baby is relying on your consistency and persistency to ‘believe’ that the routine has changed at sleep time and is not returning to the old one.
If new routines have been tried unsuccessfully for a few days and returned back to old habits baby will scream every time something new is tried, because screaming at you got you to change back last time! It is also important to be consistent with day and night sleeps and not confuse baby with different routines. We are not hurting baby, just changing the rules and the only way baby knows how to communicate this with you is to cry or scream, whatever usually gets them what they want. Older toddlers can just say “I want my dummy back!” or “I don’t want to go to sleep!” but your baby cannot say these things.
I want Mum and dad to respond to baby whenever baby is upset and provide ‘hands-on’ settling until baby is calm. Then they need to learn to listen to interpret the whinging or self-settling comfortable noises when baby is not upset. On average baby will take on average 30 minutes to self-settle to sleep the first time and usually require some re-settling at the 40-45 minute mark in the first 3-7 days until the baby learns to do it themselves.
When baby learns to self-settle to sleep, they will be able to self-settle back to sleep in the day and the night! With each day mum and dad will gain confidence and will see baby taking less time to self-settle to sleep and delight in the sleeps getting longer.
Tip: Every baby is an intelligent little human being. We need to respect this and not expect them to roll over and agree to go to sleep using a new routine the first time with crying or protesting! We need to gently reassure them and help them feel comfortable going to sleep.
(C) 2008 Natalie Ebrill All rights Reserved Worldwide.