Developing healthy sleep habits for your baby, before and after birth!
As a sleep coach and trainer, I often am called to assist families with a "problem" that includes their child/children not being able to sleep through the night. Sometimes, the issue is that the child needs mom or dad to put them to sleep. I actually feel like the real problem is that this whole issue could have been avoided in almost 100 percent of the cases I encounter. I am hoping that with this article, I will assist you in creating an environment that establishes healthy sleep habits right from pregnancy. Yep! I said we are going to start sleep training while you are pregnant! While your baby is in the womb, he is learning all he can about the outside world, while inside. It is not only his body and brain that is developing, but he is learning from your habits. I tell moms to sleep with a white noise machine at night during pregnancy. It will be that same sound that the baby recognizes when he is born, and will again feel comforted by it. Also, sing a lullaby to your baby at night. If you aren't crazy about this idea, read them a bedtime story every night. They are listening, and they will recognize it when they are born.
My most recent client baby Ky proved this to be true, yet again. His dad read him the same book every night while inside his wife's belly. When he was born- prematurely- his dad brought the book to the NICU and saw firsthand it had the same soothing effects.
If you think about it, most babies are born "sleep trained". It's true! Babies are able to put themselves to sleep without the need of anything other than a full belly! If you don't believe me, try keeping a newborn awake that is fed, happy, and tired. I don't really want you to try that, but I'm sure you have seen how they are able to fall asleep in any setting, any time of day, with anyone around them, doing just about anything. We actually train them to become dependent rather than independent. Food is for the body, as sleep is for the brain. If you don't agree with feeding your child junk food, don't feed them junk sleep either.
Here are some pretty easy steps to take to help your child be balanced, independent, healthy sleeper.
1. Avoid swings, strollers, rocking and anything else moving to "put" your babies to sleep. Have you ever fallen asleep in a moving vehicle, say a bus, a car, an airplane? What happens the moment the moving vehicle stops? You wake up right? Ok then, it is exactly the same idea here. We do not want to teach our children they need to be moving to sleep. Their bed/crib doesn't move, so you don't need to either. Don't put your child to sleep. Allow your child to fall asleep willingly, and on their own using their own independent sleeping skills.
2.Bottle or breastfeeding to get your baby to sleep is not a good approach. If your baby falls asleep nursing ( all babies do of course) once in a while, that is ok. If your baby NEEDS to nurse or bottle feed to go to sleep, that is not. Your baby is now dependent on something, rather than independent. Nurse or bottle feed your child at a time close to nap, but not close to pure exhaustion. Let them eat 'til they are full, and when they are getting very sleepy, gently place them in their bed so they can fall asleep there. Besides, lets create a healthy relationship with food right away. Food is not a way of putting ourselves to sleep, but we (and your baby) shouldn't be hungry either.
3.Always put them down for naps and bedtime in their cribs/beds awake. I have to say, this is a hard one for a lot of moms and dads. They are so used to putting their child to sleep some way and then secretly transferring them to their bed, only to have the baby wake up crying shortly after. So for them, this is a challenge. Let's turn the tables around here. Imagine if you fell asleep in your bed and you woke up and someone had transferred you to the kitchen floor, that would stir you up too, wouldn't it? Let's not trick your children, it dismantles their trust in you and in the sleeping routine. Put them in their bed tired, but awake so they are aware of where they are expected to sleep.
4. Allow them to learn to self soothe! Babies suck on their thumbs in utero, let them do that now too. If your baby enjoys the feeling of being "cramped" in the utero, re-create that by swaddling. If you have a baby that likes being swaddled but also wants to suck their thumb, swaddle with one arm out. walah!
5. Remove distractions. It's not fair to expect your little one to sleep while he is hears mommy and daddy laughing on the phone, or cheering loudly over a football game on TV. You would likely feel like you are missing out too, or just startled by the loud unexpected sounds. Remove all distractions. I again, encourage the use of white noise machines but its ok for baby to hear other noises in addition as long as it's not alarming. Keep the dog away from licking his face, or the siblings from playing and bumping into your baby trying to sleep. There is no reason to have a mobile or toys in the crib. Of course you will want to make sure your baby is well fed, changed, burped and that the room is a comfortably safe temperature.
6 Routine, routine, routine! During your pregnancy, your baby could tell the difference between day and night to some degree. During the day it is bright, and there are lots of activities and noises. At night, it is dark and quiet. Mimic that now too. During the day, the blinds can be open, or slightly drawn but not pitch black ( this creates confusion for babies since they can't tell time so avoid blacking out their room). Whether its day or night, they should always sleep in their bed. At night, the room should be pitch black, or close. You can use a small night light not near the baby's face if you need to. Prior to putting baby to bed, do those same routines your did during pregnancy to signal its time to sleep. Read that book, sing that lullaby, and enjoy the white noise. Sweet dreams!
If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me for sleep training services at EmbracingBabies.com
image credits by Anastasia.