So, perhaps that’s a bit of a misleading title.
I’m not suggesting that you can remove yourself from your child's bedtime routine altogether. Even if you could somehow say to your child, “Alright. It’s almost bedtime. Go have a bath, brush your teeth, get into your PJs, read yourself a story and tuck yourself in. Mummy will be out here watching The Bachelor with a glass of wine if you need me.”
Even if we could pull that off, I don’t know a single mother that would actually enjoy removing themselves from the routine. (Well, maybe once a week.)
Truth be told, I love putting my kids to bed. Watching them play in the bath, getting them dressed in their warm, fuzzy pajamas, cuddling and reading stories, I wouldn’t trade that for all the wine and trash TV in the world.
But the issue that I see with most parents whose babies won’t sleep through the night takes place after their little one gets into bed.
Specifically, the problem stems from a parent getting in bed with their child in order to get them to fall asleep, and here’s why…
When you crawl into bed with your little one, they will almost always want to cuddle up to you in some manner. Even if it’s just the slightest touch, they rely on the sensation of feeling you next to them in order to soothe themselves to sleep.
The problem with this arrangement is that babies, like their adult counterparts, don’t just fall asleep and stay asleep for eight or ten hours. We all sleep in cycles, which transition from a stage of light sleep to one of deep sleep, and back again.
When adults wake from one of these cycles, we typically don’t even remember it happening the next day, because we’re barely awake for a minute or two before we fall back to sleep. We can do that easily because we’re good at it. We know how to get back to sleep on our own.
But if baby is accustomed to falling asleep next to a parent, with the reassuring ability to reach out and touch that parent, then what are they supposed to do when they wake up after a sleep cycle and that parent is nowhere to be found?
Well, as I’m sure every parent knows, when a baby wants their parents, they cry.
They cry until a parent shows up and gets back into that familiar spot, which baby recognizes as a cue to go to sleep.
So that’s the reason why you’ll so often hear parents utter some twist on the old line, “My baby absolutely won’t go to sleep without me next to her.” It’s not because they need the reassurance that they’re safe, or that your presence is necessarily calming to them, it’s just part of their routine that they follow to get to sleep.
So what’s the solution?
Well, you could co-sleep, so your baby can reach out and touch you every time she wakes up, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve already given that a go, and found it’s not the utopian solution you had hoped for.
A couple of late-night kicks in the face, or a perpetually writhing baby with her fingers in your eye can cause a quick change in plans for a lot of parents who thought co-sleeping would solve their nighttime woes.
Or, and this suggestion comes with a much higher recommendation, you can let them learn some independent sleep skills which they can call on anytime they wake up, in order to get back to sleep all on their own.
I know that might sound like a tall order for a baby, but I’m not suggesting anything too challenging, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly they adapt to new strategies for getting to sleep. Stroking a lovey, chewing on a blanket, or even just playing with their own fingers and toes can be effective little methods for making the transition into sleep, and the best part is, they can be done anytime baby wakes up, whatever time of the day or night.