Is your child a “bad sleeper”?

If you’re reading this blog, then the answer is possibly Yes!  But the real question is, “Do I accept that my child is a bad sleeper?” Hopefully, your answer is No!  

Does your child just need a lot less sleep?  Most likely, Nope! Is it your child’s fault? Nope! Is it your fault? Also, Nope! 

Most of us do what we have to do in order to sleep, especially in the early days of having a young baby. You take a nap when you can. You sleep with your baby. You buy each and every product on the market that you think will help your child sleep. (Thank you Amazon Prime!) All of that is fine, all of that is needed, just do it safely! 

In a nutshell, our babies/children learn what we teach them. They don’t come with their own expectations or plans. We create an environment and a pattern, and then they learn to expect that. This is normal. Sometimes though, the pattern needs to change or evolve and your baby will need some time to adjust to the new way.  

As with any new skill, we would like to think that we can teach and train a child to do something… and then take credit for it. But ultimately, it isn’t about us. 

Let me break it down. We create the environment for learning, we set the pattern for practice, we encourage, and we support. Ultimately, however, the last little bit of learning is done solely by your child. It’s the same process for learning to ride a bike as it is for potty learning (notice how I didn’t say training?). It’s the same process for sleep learning (not sleep training). Unfortunately, we cannot do it for them. They have to do some of it for themselves. It can take a while. That can be frustrating, but it will be worth it in the long run.  

From bike riding to sleeping, we cannot force our child to learn a new skill. It comes with opportunity, practice, support, encouragement, and repetition. 

Repeat 10 million times.  

For most ‘bad sleeper’ situations, it’s just a matter of making a few environmental and behavioral changes along with some detective work. Here are a few things to think about as you start teaching your child the very valuable skill of sleeping. 

Always rule out medical conditions by your child’s medical professional and stay updated on your child’s current feeding requirements from your breastfeeding specialist.  

Set up your day to be inclusive for quality sleep. 

Create a calm and safe sleep space that is conducive for sleep. Have your child sleep there as much as possible. Remember, life happens and rigid schedules don’t do us any favors. Children thrive on predictability; however, it’s good if your child is able to occasionally sleep in different spaces if needed. Work towards motionless naps as much as possible. 

Watch them. 

Children are not able to tell us when they are starting to feel tired/overwhelmed/frustrated. Crying is a late signal for hunger. It can be difficult to feed and especially difficult to nurse a baby that has already become too upset to latch. Crying is also a late signal for sleep. It can be difficult for a baby to calm down and regulate when the stress hormones have become activated. Most of us only notice it when it’s already too late. Experts used to say to watch the clock. Now experts say to watch your child. I say, watch both! Some children are harder to read than others, so the clock can be a useful tool to help us keep track of how long it has been between feedings and sleep. 

Additional Resources and Tips: 

Harvey Karp – The 5 S’s: Shush, Swaddle, Side lying, Sway and Suck. 

In the 4th trimester, we can create a womb-like environment. These S’s can be very helpful especially during longer crying episodes, witching hours, and when a baby is dealing with digestive issues. After four months, however, I would suggest that you try to wean off from one of those methods every few days if your baby is adjusting well to the change. Keep one or two of those methods as your baby will still need assistance in falling asleep while they learn to regulate themselves. Your baby is the best judge of which methods work the best for them! 

Dr Weissbluth –  Two Hour Wake Window Magic

One of the best lessons I learned early on was the Two Hour Wake Window Magic. (For babies over six months)  So many things fell into place after I discovered this!  Being a good detective and really watching your child will let you know what their personal magic number is. For a young baby, it might be 90 minutes. A well rested baby may be able to stretch it a little more.  

Tracy Hogg – Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.  

EASY – How simple is that to remember? Well it’s just so easy! Eat. Activity. Sleep. You (your time). What a great way to help a mama realize that she will get her little break in there a few times during the day to do what she needs to do. This will become more obvious as they get older and sleep/wake/feeding patterns become more concrete.   

Kim West – The Sleep Lady 

For babies under six months, their wakeful windows are more important than their nap duration. Some babies won’t sleep longer than 30 minutes as their brains simply aren’t mature enough to do so. Some babies need to be held.  A baby may have three to five naps per day. (More naps if they’re short and  less naps if they’re long,)  Their wake windows may be shorter if they had a short nap, meaning that the next nap will come sooner.   If they had a long nap then the wakeful window may be longer.  There can be a lot of variation throughout the day.  

Another useful thing to think about are sleep averages. Remember, averages are just that: averages. This means that there are plenty of babies/children/adults with vastly different needs. Averages should be used as a guide, or a place to start from, and should not be seen as hard goals. Just because Baby Timmy down the block was sleeping for ten hours at four months of age, doesn’t mean your child can or should, but averages are a good place to start your thought process and planning.

Sleep Averages* National Sleep Foundation 

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range 14-17 hours each day 
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep 12-15 hours 
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep 11-14 hours 
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep 10-13 hours 
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep 9-11 hours 
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep 8-10 hours 
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours 
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours 

Most importantly, remember to cut yourself some slack. There will be hundred, thousands, of skills you will teach your child over the course of their life. Sleep is the first in a long line of chances to teach by creating opportunity and then practice, support, encouragement, and repetition. 

Repeat 10 million times. 

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