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Written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
26 April 2021

The Bedtime Routine and When to step away

To be clear, I am not proposing that you cut yourself out of your child's nighttime routine. Even if you could manage to tell your kid, "Okay. It's almost time for bed. Take a bath, clean your teeth, put on your pyjamas, read a book to yourself, and then go to bed. If you need me, Mommy will be sitting here with a glass of wine, watching Netflix.

Even if that was possible, I don't know a single mother who would actually enjoy removing themselves from their child's routine, (Well, maybe once a week.)

I adore putting my kids to bed, the truth be known. I wouldn't swap the opportunity to spend time with my children reading tales, snuggling, and watching them play in the bathtub for all the wine and trash TV in the world.

Yet the issue I see with most parents is when their child is put into bed.  In particular, the issue arises when a parent puts their kid in bed with them to help them go to sleep, and here's why...

Your child will almost always want to cuddle up to you in some way when you climb into bed with them. They rely on the feeling of your being next to them to fall asleep, even if it's just the lightest touch.

Because babies, like their adult counterparts, don't just go asleep and stay asleep for eight or ten hours, this arrangement can cause problems.   We all go through cycles of sleep in which we alternate between stages of light and deep sleep.

Adults who experience one of these cycles usually only recall it the next day since they are only awake for a few minutes before falling back asleep.   We are able to fall asleep again on our own.

So what should a baby do when they wake up after a sleep cycle and that parent is nowhere to be found if they are used to falling asleep close to a parent and reaching out to touch that parent for comfort?
So, as I'm sure every parent is aware, babies cry when they want their parents.

They cry until a parent appears and settles back into that comfortable position, which the baby interprets as a signal to fall asleep.

This explains why you hear parents use some variation of the phrase "My baby definitely won't go to sleep without me close to her" so frequently. It's not because they need to know they are secure or because they find your presence relaxing; it's merely a habit they have formed in order to fall asleep.

So what is the answer?

Co-sleeping would allow your kid to reach out and touch you whenever she wakes up, but since you're reading this, I'm assuming you've already tried that and realised it's not the perfect solution you were hoping for.

Many parents who believed co-sleeping would end their overnight problems quickly alter their minds after receiving a few late-night kicks in the face or being awakened by a baby who is constantly wriggling and sticking her fingers in their eyes.

Instead, a better option is to allow them to develop some autonomous sleep techniques that they can use whenever they wake up to go back asleep on their own. So after finishing the routine, and you've kissed your little one goodnight, instead of lingering, step away and allow your child to put herself to sleep on her own.

You might think that's a lot to ask of a baby or child, but I'm not proposing anything extremely hard, and you'll be astonished at how fast they pick up on new sleeping habits. The great thing is that these simple techniques may be used whenever baby wakes up, day or night, and can be as simple as playing with their own fingers and toes, nibbling on a lovey, or even just stroking a blanket.

Article written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
Based in Singapore
Trained in the Sleep Sense Program

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