One of the central rules of sleep training is that you should allow your little one to develop their abilities to fall asleep on their own. So it can cause a real “Should I or shouldn’t I” moment when you look at the baby monitor and see that your child has pushed themselves into an uncomfortable looking ball against the side of their crib.
I see this issue predominantly in babies who have been either rocked or nursed to sleep in mommy’s arms, and are then put into their crib already asleep. It may seem a little silly, but this is typically because they haven’t learned that they need to lie down in order for sleep to come easily.
After all, up until they start the program, babies have been held in a certain position in their parents’ arms, which doesn’t allow for any kind of exploration or experimentation. They’re held in a nice, comfortable pose until they fall asleep, and then they wake up in their crib.
This can lead to babies falling asleep in some pretty amusing positions when they are eventually left to figure it out for themselves, as they try to discover what sort of position they need to get into to get to sleep. Many will fall asleep sitting up, or even while they’re still on their feet, after a little time spent exploring their crib.
So obviously, priority one with any baby is safety, so yes, you should absolutely go in and lie your baby on their back if they fall asleep in a position that’s not safe for them.
“But won’t that wake them up and send the whole process back to square one?” you may be asking.
Well, yes and no. There’s a good chance baby might wake up and want to interact with you, but if you lay them down and reassure them that’s it’s still time for sleep, then promptly leave the room, chances are they’ll find their way back to sleep before long. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than risking them falling over.
But what about those times when they manage to wriggle their way into the corner of their crib? There are times when baby might not be in a dangerous sleeping position, per say, but just one that looks really uncomfortable.
Well, what may seem uncomfortable looking to us grown ups might be super comfortable to a baby. The most common scenario I see is babies lying against the edge of their crib, which we equate with sleeping against a wall, which is not something most adults are terribly fond of.
But babies do seem to like to sleep while pushed up against something. It may be for a sense of security, or a feeling of being next to someone, but whatever the reason, they do seem to gravitate towards some kind of a surface to sleep against.
And if they do end up a little smushed up against the side of their crib, or curled up into the corner, your best bet is to let them sleep.
Again, our number one concern is safety, so if baby has a limb hanging between the bars of the crib, or has gotten into a position that might make it difficult to breathe, go ahead and reposition them. Just remember to make it as quick and quiet as possible, and don’t linger any longer than you have to in order to get them back into a safe sleeping position.
As for what to do when your partner gets into a position that only leaves you seven inches of space on the edge of the bed, you’re on your own with that one.
There’s no such thing as a casual mom. This job is full-time, no matter if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, a working mom, or somewhere in between. Your kids are on your mind 24/7, no matter what else might be going on, so we tend to do a lot of research, and with access to unlimited data via the internet and social media, it’s inevitable that we get some conflicting information. Although when it comes to kids, I think the discussion even eclipses politics for the sheer divisiveness and claiming opinion as fact.
So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, that being sleep, and try to dispel some of the more popular myths I’ve seen in parenting forums, heard from Mom groups I’ve talked with.
Myth No. 1: Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night.
Not likely, except in extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with the length of their naps. Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2 - 2.5 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour. What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sack out for a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually just the opposite. The reason we refer to it as being “overtired” is because baby has missed the “tired” phase and their bodies start to kick back into gear, which keeps them from falling and staying asleep. A baby who has gotten a decent amount of sleep during the day is far less likely to miss the sleep window.
Myth No. 2: Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.
Sleeping is natural, absolutely. Everybody wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night, regardless of their age. So no, you can’t teach a child to be sleepy. What can be taught, however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently. The typical “bad sleeper” of a baby isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up. They’ve just learned to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake up. Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, they start stringing those sleep cycles together absolutely effortlessly, and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night” as most parents understand it.
Myth No. 3: Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule
The idea that infant physiology is so flawlessly, naturally programmed to regulate a baby’s schedule is, to be blunt, laughable.
Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep cycle by as little as a half hour, their cortisol production can increase which causes a surge in energy, and things quickly spiral out of control. So as much as I wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
Myth No. 4: Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.
Nope. And this isn’t just me talking here. This is the American Academy of Paediatrics. If there’s a more reliable source of baby health information, they’re astoundingly bad at marketing themselves. And according to a 2016 study conducted by eight of their top researchers, behavioral intervention, (A.K.A Sleep training) “provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” Not a whole lot of grey area there.
Myth No. 5: Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
Trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing is a recipe for disaster. Is your toddler designed to eat three pounds of gummi bears? Surely not. Will they if you don’t intervene. Without a doubt. Is your baby designed to avoid predators? If so, nobody told my little ones, who would jump into a lion's den if the opportunity presented itself. Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years, and probably will for decades after that.
This is especially true when it comes to their sleep. Some babies are naturally gifted sleepers, for sure, but don’t rely on the advice of those who tell you that babies should dictate their schedules. You’re in charge because you know best, even if it may not feel like it sometimes. There are obviously plenty more myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits, but these are some of the most important to get the facts on. Remember, there are endless posts on social media and websites that portray themselves as factual, but there’s nothing stopping them from making that claim, regardless of their accuracy or basis in actual scientific evidence. Trusted sources like the American Academy of Paediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, the World Health Organization, and other national children’s health organizations are excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health. And if you want more information about the benefits of sleep, I am ready to speak to you about these at length.
It’s been my experience that there’s usually one parent who handles the bulk of the night-time responsibilities.
And that parent, in a man/woman relationship, is usually Mum. And it’s often not because Dad does not want to help out.
I’m usually contacted by parents who are having issues getting their babies to sleep, and that’s almost always because baby’s got an external sleep prop that they use to get back to sleep when they wake in the night.
And the most common prop I see, by far, is nursing, which pretty much leaves Dad out of the equation.
Now, this is a problem for a couple of reasons. Obviously, if baby’s waking up six times a night and demanding Mum come in to nurse her back to sleep, that’s taxing on mother and baby.
But there’s another person who tends to suffer in this scenario, and that’s Dad. It might be hard to imagine, if you’re currently reading this in the middle of the night with a baby hanging off your breast, listening to your husband snoring contentedly from the other room, but it’s true.
Dads, the vast majority of them anyway, want to be great dads. They want to have an active role in bringing up their kids, and they love it when they feel like they’re succeeding in that role.
But because Mum is the one with the magical breast milk, Dad often feels powerless to help out in the sleep department, which means Mum’s up every time baby cries, and Dad, while sympathetic, can’t do much but go back to sleep.
This can lead to some hostility from a sleep deprived Mum, who feels like she’s doing more than her share, and some defensiveness from Dad, who gets to feeling attacked for something he has no control over.
But here’s the good news for both of you…
If you’ve decided to give sleep training a try, it often goes better if Dad takes the lead.
That’s right! Take a load off, Mum. Dad’s taking point on this one. Because Dad doesn’t nurse, and baby knows it. So when it comes to breaking the association between nursing and falling asleep, baby tends to learn quicker and respond better when Dad comes into the room during the first few nights of baby learning to fall asleep independently.
Here’s the funny thing. Whenever I let this on to a couple I’m working with, Mum smiles broadly and teases Dad about how he’s much fun he’s going to have getting up six times in the night.
But then, night one, as soon as baby starts to cry, Mum shoots out of bed and goes straight into baby’s room. Or even more regularly, Mum stands in the doorway instructing Dad on the right way to settle Baby back down, and corrects him every step of the way.
This is when Mum has to take a step back. If Dad’s going to get involved, him and Baby have to find their own rhythm, and Mum needs to have little to no part in it. And as much as they always say they’ll have no problem letting their husbands take the wheel, when it comes down to the moment of truth, many mums have trouble giving up control.
So remember, Dad might just be the magical solution to your baby’s sleep issues, but you’re going to have to let him take over. Take heart though. Most of my clients see dramatic improvements in their baby’s sleep in just a couple of nights, so you won’t have to control yourself for long.
After that, you and and your partner will have the evenings back to yourselves, and your whole family can get back to sleeping through the night.