11 Jun BABY WON’T SLEEP? HERE’S 30 REASONS WHY….
Sleep is the among the most talked about, and contentious of topics for mums to be, new parents, and even the most experienced of parents. What most of us have in common, is that we are not getting enough, we worry that our children are not getting enough, and lack of sleep can often lead to an unhappy family unit, post natal depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health issues.
There are countless variables affecting overall sleep quality, duration, habits, patterns, behaviour and capabilities. Some of these elements we (as parents) have control over, and some we don’t. Some sleep solutions are simple and fast, and others are far more complex and time consuming. In order to provide appropriate solutions, the following must be considered (of the child, and/or family unit); emotional well-being, physical health, parenting philosophy, mum’s pregnancy and birth experience, weight, age, temperament, and nutritional needs (among many others). Below are 30 common factors which may be impacting on your child’s ability to sleep well, if at all.
1) Choice of parenting philosophy/style:
In my experience (personally and professionally), there seems to be a high correlation between an attachment, or gentle-parenting style, and increased sleep difficulties such as: reliance on feeding/rocking/holding to fall asleep (and back to sleep), co-sleeping/breast-sleeping (out of convenience, not choice), and frequent night wakings. This may be attributed to the fact that these parents are generally highly responsive and not as rigid (or potentially consistent) with routine, or how they respond to their baby’s cries, and needs. This unfortunately can translate to forming undesirable habits (especially during times of illness, teething, leaps and milestones), and behavioural issues may develop. Parenting style is a combination of nature vs nurture; we naturally navigate to a particular style based on how we were parented (our genes), whether we are predominantly an A or B type personality, the temperament of our child (their genes), and our environment. To the contrary, parents who have been more structured and consistent with routine from birth do tend to experience more consistency with sleep long-term (and less regression). The trade off for these parents? their babies are less adaptable to any changes to routine, and this may come at a sacrifice to mum/dads overall flexibility. Follow your gut. There’s no wrong or right, just what feels right for you and your family.
2) Sleep Training method/s:
Let’s face it: no parent wants to hear their baby cry. In most cases, a cry it out or controlled crying approach (whether done at home or in sleep school), is usually; A) a last resort for parents who feel they have tried everything else without success (and sleepless nights are taking their toll on overall health and emotional well-being of mum and/or the family unit); OR, B) mum is returning to work, so time restraints call for a faster turnaround in undesirable sleep habits. There is no such thing as a “no cry” approach (sorry Elizabeth Pantley!). Crying is always part of the package when you are changing sleep patterns, as babies very rarely give up their favourite things (e.g. breast/bottle/dummy/cuddle) without a fight! However, the majority of sleep issues can be improved in a gentle, loving, and respectful manner – the trade off? that these solutions require time, patience, support, and a higher emotional and physical bandwidth. This can be a luxury many parents cannot afford – especially when you consider that so many of us with children these days are flying solo without our village; we have limited family or spousal support, and postnatal depression and anxiety is on the rise (most likely from the latter). Although I have my reservations, I will not shame sleep school; I really do believe that for many parents who are at the end of their tether, the extra hands on support can be worth it’s weight in gold. However, some professionals claim that certain controlled crying/cry it out methods can be attributed to learned helplessness, and sleep and behavioural issues long-term. In any case, mum’s well-being must be considered – because ultimately a well rested mum, makes for a happier mum, and in turn, a happier baby (and family unit). Regardless of what you choose to do (if anything), it is not our position to judge others for their parenting choices (sleep training included) – you never know what their current life challenges entail. If you feel sleep training is right for your family, then select a method which is going to suit your current lifestyle needs, energy levels, emotional capacity, support network, time commitments, parenting philosophy, your personality type, and your child’s temperament. Click here for some gentle sleep training/sleep improvement strategies.
3) Birth experience and early trauma:
Our birth and prenatal experiences set the foundation for our life, ultimately impacting our physical, emotional and psychological health. Complications to mum and/or baby during birth, various medical interventions, induction, breach birth, illness, parental separation, environmental toxins, complications with vaccinations, hospitalisation, premature birth, injury, illness, circumcision, surgery, lip/tongue tie corrections, dietary imbalances or sensitivities, various medications, and the actual birth process itself (i.e. whether long or fast second stage of labour, c-section or vaginal) may contribute to excessive crying and inability to settle (such as colic), sleeping difficulties, developmental delays, sensory processing disorders, retained reflexes, and a host of emotional and behavioural issues. The particular psycho-emotional patterns that have their origins in the birth process include how we relate to pressure, stress and time, decision making, and our ability to initiate and complete projects. How each of these plays out in our own lives will depend on the specific nature of our birth. We may gravitate toward certain lifestyle choices or adopt behavioural/emotional patterns as a way of unconsciously re-enacting the dynamics of our own birth. Whilst some interventions are unavoidable, acknowledging our baby’s need to cry to release stress and heal trauma is paramount. Crying in arms/staylistening are powerful techniques to support our children in offloading their heavy feelings (which can be triggered in different ways – perhaps when overtired or overstimulated, or when experiencing a change to routine or certain life transitions which may leave them feeling insecure and vulnerable (the feelings associated with their birth or early trauma experience that they perhaps were unable to fully release at the time). A pioneer in the field of birth trauma, William Emerson states: “Most parents and professionals consider it ordinary for infants to awaken during the night, cry for long periods, have gastrointestinal distress, or be irritable. Few parents or professionals have seen trauma-free babies, so few have experienced babies who are symptom-free. In addition, few have glimpsed the human potential that is possible when babies are freed from the bonds of early trauma”.
**Natural therapies and resources which can assist with healing birth trauma (for mother and baby) include: Craniosacral Therapy, Neuro Emotional Technique, Kinesiology, HELD (Support for Birth Trauma), Beyond Blue, and Children and Trauma – what to expect, and what to do (Aletha Solter Ph.D.).
4) Opportunity to offload feelings safely, and regularly:
Crying is a normal and healthy way for our babies to express their emotions if we have been responsive to their immediate needs, and so long as they are allowed to cry in the safety and comfort of their parent’s loving arms (not left to cry alone). Crying can be an effective healing strategy for babies and children who have experienced early stress (eg. jealous siblings, stressed or anxious parents, stress/ anxiety/depression during pregnancy, parental separation, frightening events), or major traumas, such as hospitalisation, medical intervention or complications during birth, surgery, parental divorce, or the illness/death of a parent (to name a few). Encouraging our children to offload these feelings can prevent, or drastically improve behavioural issues and/or their ability to sleep well throughout childhood and adolescence; ensuring smoother transitions during periods of change, illness, and developmental milestones.
“Children’s emotional outbursts are a natural recovery process that restores their ability to relax, love and learn. Their systems are built to offload feelings of upset immediately and vigorously. But our training as parents is to stop them from offloading their feelings! We are taught to give them pacifers, food, rocking, patting, scolding and, later, time-outs and spanking if the crying or screaming goes on for more than a minute. We are taught to work against the child’s own healthy instinct to get rid of bad feelings immediately. So, our children store these upsets and try many times a day to work them out, usually by testing limits or having meltdowns over small issues. If they can’t offload them during the day, the feelings bother them in the night.” – Patty Wipfler, Hand in Hand Parenting.
Age plays a significant role in how often our babies need to be fed, how long they are capable of sleeping day and overnight, and how we respond to their needs. Newborns have a physical and biological need to wake more often day and night (for growth, development, mum’s milk supply, and due to their immature circadian rhythms). They also spend 50 percent of their time in REM (light sleep), so this explains why they awaken more easily than older babies and toddlers (at six months, the overall time spent in REM sleep reduces to 30 percent). Keeping in mind that because our baby’s daytime sleep patterns are the last to be established (somewhere around six to seven months), it is very common to experience inconsistencies with day and night sleep until this age (ie. catnapping). In my experience, and professional opinion, babies under six months are not physiologically capable of sleeping through the night without feeds; this seems to be more consistent from eight to nine months (again more variables include breast vs formula fed, weight, overall health, premature vs full term birth, developmental stage, daily solid and milk consumption, temperament, environment, routine, and so on.
6) Unfilled needs:
Babies need physical touch, love and connection in order to thrive. Being close to a parent stimulates a baby’s nervous system, and assists antibody production at times of teething and illness – this explains why you may notice heightened clinginess at these times. Sleep is a direct reflection of what is, or isn’t happening during our child’s waking hours. If a child is not getting enough during the day (eg. nutrition, stimulation, attention, and/or physical closeness), then they will wake overnight to fulfil these needs. Of course again the variables are endless; many “high needs” babies may naturally wake more often regardless of what the parents do, babies who have experienced birth trauma may have an increased need for closeness and touch throughout infancy, and newborns have a biological and physiological need for closeness and warmth (for regulation) when compared to a 12 month-old. Starting with 10-20 minutes of special time per day with your child can make a significant difference to their ability to sleep overnight. Baby wearing, co-sleeping, and keeping your young baby swaddled (babies four months and under) are also ways to help make them feel safe and secure emotionally and physically.
7) Retained Primitive Reflexes:
The moro (startle), and rooting (sucking) reflex (among others), are reflexes our babies are born with, and commonly integrate between the first 2-6 months of life. If a reflex is unintegrated (meaning it remains active), this can create a host of health, behavioural, developmental, and sleep related problems; including sensory processing issues, poor motor skills, ADHD, allergies, weak immune system, aggressive behaviour, fatigue, bedwetting, and vision impairment (to name a few). The birth process is a key factor in the integration of these reflexes (particularly a really long or short second stage, and births requiring medical intervention). Other common causes for retained reflexes include; prenatal stress, early trauma, illness, injury, lack of enough proper movement in infancy (over-use/rotation of high chairs, jumpers, activity centres, swings etc.), and dietary imbalances or sensitivities. If you suspect your child may suffer from a retained reflex you can test for these at home, and/or engage the help of a professional (such as; paediatric chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherapist, or kinesiologist) to diagnose, and/or prescribe integration exercises. Read here for more information on primitive reflexes and signs of retention.
8) Premature vs full-term birth:
Premature babies may have additional feeding needs during the day and overnight. Most healthcare professionals advise using the corrected age for scheduling, dictating developmental ability, sleep and feeding requirements up to the age of 12-24 months. In addition to this, any early trauma that may have resulted from a baby being born prematurely (e.g. birth process, hospitalisation, parental separation, complications, health issues) may impact overall development, sleep quality and duration, and may result in increased sensitivity, persistent crying, fussiness or inability to settle at sleep times/overnight.
9) Parent’s current emotional well-being, and level of stress:
Babies in the early years, rely on us for co-regulation of their emotions. This explains why they need to be held to calm when they are upset, in pain, or fearful. In addition to this, if we are experiencing depression, or are frustrated, anxious, or stressed when responding to them at bedtimes (or in general), then naturally they will mirror this stress response (aka fight or flight). Crying, bedtime resistance, and frequent wakings can be expected as a result. There are also suggestions that cortisol (stress hormone) passed from mother to baby via breastmilk, may create a stress response in the baby, potentially impacting on behaviour and sleep. Regular self-care, having a support network, and a listening partner are vital to a parent’s well-being and their ability to parent consciously.
10) The parent’s preconceived ideas and agenda:
The past does not equal the future: what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and what was successful in helping your first child sleep, won’t necessarily help your second, third or fourth. Just as our children are all unique, we cannot compensate for our past perceived (parenting) failures by adopting parenting choices that only serve to fulfil our own ego, or alleviate our insecurities, regrets, or fears. Like us, babies and children are forever evolving, and as such, their sleep needs, and reliance on us as their parents also continues to change. Just as we respect the ebb and flow of nature without judgement or question, we must surrender to the “as-is-ness”, or the fluid nature of our children, without controlling, manipulating, or tainting the experience with our own needs, desires, or conveniences. We must evolve with, and adapt to our children – rather than try to compare them to others, or mould them to fit our agenda – or the movie we are playing in our head of the “perfect” child, parent, or family. As parents, we are often unwilling to surrender to the spiritual, emotional, and psychological commitment that parenthood demands of us, and therefore many of us passionately resist our current reality, or are compelled to spend every waking moment trying to change it. It’s in our nature to want answers; to deconstruct our children’s behaviour and their sleep patterns. We feel helpless, uncomfortable, vulnerable, and out of control when we are unable to predict our child from one day to the next, when we can’t anticipate their every move, or when things don’t go to plan. But when we are operating from a place of fear, our desire to control, manipulate, compare and analyse ensues the unobtainable pursuit of perfection, an unhealthy attachment to our past, and a resistance to what is. The thing is, no matter how hard we try, other people is one thing we can’t control. We can however, control our perspective, perception, our attitude, our expectations, and our level of acceptance.
11) Control patterns:
Any action or object that a child habitually turns to as a source of comfort at times of boredom, insecurity, fear, anxiety, overtired-ness, or physical hurt is likely to be a control pattern or habit, and not a real need. Usually accompanied by a vacant or spaced out look, control patterns temporarily soothe the child and stop them from crying by repressing uncomfortable or painful feelings. Control patterns rarely make a child happy, but instead serve to dissociate the child from their current reality – and if used regularly enough may lead to withdrawal, sleep issues, and behavioural difficulties. During the night, a child may wake distressed and seek comfort in their parents – usually in the form of the breast, bottle, dummy comforter, rocking or holding (if this is their control pattern). Many parents continue to offer this comfort multiple times per night, which can lead to resentment, and/or undesired parenting choices (e.g. punishments, crying it out or physical force). Out of convenience and/or sheer exhaustion, many parents resort to either short-term or long-term co-sleeping as a means to minimise overnight waking, or the disruption of these waking on the family unit, which often co-exists with a breast-sleeping or feeding-to-sleep pattern. The Sleep Play Love Method provides step-by-step instructions to help you transition your child toward independent sleep by alleviating the reliance on control patterns and sleep needs.
Although there is no official medical diagnosis for colic, it is usually defined by the “rule of three” ‒ symptoms start roughly at three weeks of age, the baby will be crying for more than three hours per day, for more than three days per week, and for longer than three weeks (in an infant who is well-fed and otherwise healthy). More often, persistent crying will occur in the evenings from 5:00pm onwards (aka “witching hour”). Symptoms usually peak at 6 weeks and subside between 3-4 months. As we know, there are many variables to crying in the early weeks. Main offenders are prenatal stress, birth trauma, an immature digestive system, food sensitivities/allergies, unfulfilled needs, overstimulation, developmental frustrations and frightening events such as loud noises or parental separation. Colic also seems to be more prevalent in babies who have more sensitive or emotional temperaments. There is no “quick fix” for colic symptoms. Pediatrician Harvey Karp (Happiest Baby on the Block) promotes the 5 s’s as a safe and effective settling tool to “switch on” a baby’s calming reflex and prevent crying. However, whilst we want to satisfy our children’s basic needs we don’t necessarily want to stop the crying. Settling techniques such as rocking, shushing, breast, or dummy (although may stop the crying temporarily), doesn’t always address the root cause for the crying. These settling strategies, when done regularly and over a period of time, can quickly become our babies control patterns, and work to repress big feelings; which can lead to a host of behavioural and emotional problems well into adult life. Providing we have addressed their hunger, thirst, pain, comfort, and need for physical closeness, it is important that we encourage our babies to cry to heal and recover from any stress and/or trauma, as ultimately this will lead to increased calmness and better sleep.
13) The need for a fourth trimester:
Babies four months and under have under-developed circadian rhythms (body clocks), immature nervous systems, and biologically shorter sleep cycles. This can explain why they are prone to shorter sleep/wake cycles, become easily overstimulated, and have difficulty calming without parental intervention. Their immature digestive systems also add to discomfort; leading to wind, irritability, crying spells, and difficulty sleeping. Creating a womb like environment to honour our newborn’s biological and physiological needs for physical touch, warmth, comfort, and security can help minimise fussy behaviour, persistent crying, and/or sleep difficulties. For settling tools and tips during this time, click here.
Overtiredness (from lack of day sleep), undertiredness, missing the sleep window, too much day sleep, “off” timing of naps, overstimulation (especially young babies 0-3 months), lack of stimulation (boredom), travel, daycare, holidays, different carers (grandparents, childcare, nanny, babysitter), changes to routine, or a need for a change in routine, can all contribute to poor day and night sleep. For my comprehensive routines and troubleshooting for babies 0-3 years, click here
15) Life transitions:
Starting childcare, travel, toilet training, moving from cot to toddler bed, transitioning from co-sleeping to cot/own room, pregnancy, new sibling, death in the family, parental separation, and moving house (among others), can bring fear, apprehension and insecurity. If our little people cannot release or express these big feelings during the day (they may feel unsafe to do so in the care of others, or we may repress them with dummy use, comfort feeding and/or shushing, rocking etc), then they usually play out at bedtimes (bedtime/nap resistance), increased crying, overnight wakings, and/or early rising. Aggression is also a common byproduct of fear, so behaviour such as biting, hitting, and pushing can be normal at these times. Avoid too many transitions at once. Encourage and support your child to offload their feelings frequently throughout the day through tears, tantrums and laughter. Tools such as special time, staylistening and playlistening build security and connection – essential for our babies to sleep well.
16) Sleep associations:
Rocking, feeding, or holding to sleep, the car, carrier, swing, stroller, and the dummy (among others) can become “negative” sleep associations, which interfere with your child’s ability to self settle, and therefore effectively get to sleep and stay asleep without repetitive parental intervention. Establishing positive sleep associations is paramount for healthy sleep. Introduce a consistent bedtime routine (day and night) which can be replicated by anyone, at any time, anywhere (such as; comforter, white noise, sleeping bag, dark room, and reading a book).
17) Sleep disorders:
Common ones include sleep apnea, head banging and/or body rocking (usually a comfort/pain relief strategy), bed-wetting, and night terrors. Many of these can be improved significantly with a consistent (age appropriate) day and night routine, adequate sleep, and avoiding overstimulation/overtiredness. For children who experience habitual night terrors, Lully is a scientifically proven, safe, and effective solution. Always consult with a healthcare professional prior to starting a sleep program if you suspect your child may have a sleep disorder.
18) Medical conditions:
This can include numerous ailments; from the common cold, to eczema, allergies, and reflux. Pain and discomfort can impact on sleep a little, or a lot – depending on the severity of symptoms, the temperament of your child, and how you respond to them and/or treat the symptoms. Tongue and lip ties (often diagnosed by a lactation consultant) are also common, and can lead to poor latch, difficulties feeding, excess wind, hunger, and fussiness (in turn affecting quality of sleep). At any time you are concerned about your child’s health or well-being, please consult your healthcare provider.
The average age that most babies cut their first tooth is 6-7 months. Most children will have all of their milk (baby) teeth by 2.5 years. Teething symptoms, however, can start to appear as early as 3 months before a tooth even shows up. Depending on the individual, their age, temperament, which teeth, and how many are coming through at a time, the pain and affect on sleep and behaviour can be experienced for one day to a week (or more). Teething discomfort, like illness, can be exacerbated toward the end of the day, and when lying flat. Common affects on sleep include catnapping (or shorter naps), bedtime resistance, increased fussiness/irritability/crying, more frequent overnight wakings (specifically in the hours following bedtime i.e. 7:00pm – 11pm), and early rising (4:00am onward). For more on teething symptoms, effects on sleep, and solutions, click here.
20) Developmental Stage:
Developmental milestones and leaps are always a consideration in the first 2 years (and beyond). Even the slightest change in development (such as learning a new skill) can cause sleep to regress; difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. When your child is experiencing physical milestones such as sitting, rolling, crawling, standing, cruising, babbling, talking and walking (among many others), you may notice that your child wakes more frequently overnight (and/or for periods of 1-3 hours at a time), or takes a while to fall asleep at nap/ bedtime practicing these skills (especially calling out/babbling, rolling, rocking on all fours, and standing in their cot). This is developmentally normal and can continue from a few days to a few weeks. The real reason that our babies’ sleep appears to “regress” during such times is because, like us, they process information during their sleep. Their little brains are so busy practicing new skills, perceiving, exploring and experiencing in their waking hours, that they can have diffculty “switching off ” when it is time to sleep. Many can also become overstimulated/overtired at these times, and it is common for them to experience some level of frustration. Read more on developmental stages, effects on sleep, and solutions to minimise sleep disturbances at these times here.
21) Breast vs Formula:
Breastfed babies generally take longer to night wean (or to sleep longer stretches overnight without feeding). Because breast milk is more easily digested, breastfed babies may wake more frequently from hunger, and/or for the added primal comfort and safety of being breast-fed (skin to skin, and hormones such as oxytocin in breast milk). The added ease of breastfeeding overnight to settle your baby may become habit (e.g. frequent night wakings become habitual/for comfort, rather than nutritive).
22) Temperament and Genetics:
Your child’s temperament and genetics play a major role in how (well) your baby sleeps. This can explain why some babies are naturally “better” sleepers, whilst others seem to struggle ‒ regardless of what parents do. Some elements of temperament include activity level, distractibility, persistence, approach-withdrawal, intensity, adaptability, regularity, sensory threshold and mood. It can dictate a child’s ability to self-soothe, and how easily they adapt to changes in routine or environment, certain sleep training methodologies, and the degree to which teething, illness, or developmental milestones impact on their sleeping ability. The more sensitive (or lovingly high needs!), spirited, stubborn and persistent babies seem to have the most difficulty (and require the most parental intervention) when it comes to sleep, whereas the more relaxed, easygoing, adaptable and calm babies tend to be better sleepers overall (and these babies are less phased by times of transitions, milestones, illness and routine changes). There have been studies that demonstrate the role of genetics in sleep habits. Whilst daytime sleep is more affected by environmental factors, sleep duration (especially for babies around 6 months), is largely due to genetics. As our babies become older, environment and routine overrides genetics in sleep duration and habits. From my experience with my kids, and many clients I have worked with; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Safe to say, if mum or dad is an early riser, or a night owl, then you can expect your children to display these patterns also. Conditions such as colic, and night terrors are also said to have some genetic influence.
23) Lack of day sleep/overtired:
This can contribute to raised cortisol levels, which make it difficult for babies to fall asleep without additional comfort (such as rocking or feeding), and also causes them to wake more frequently overnight (same as when we are stressed or are running off adrenaline we tend to have more difficulty sleeping/wake more overnight and can’t get back to sleep). Sleep also seems to turn on genes known to play a part in the formation of myelin, which helps mature and regulate the central nervous system (which explains why lack of sleep can lead to illness, and erratic behaviour/tantrums, and an activated fight/flight response).
24) Our responses to our children, and consistency:
Do we feed, rock, or co-sleep with our babies every time they wake overnight? Do we honour them with time and space to try to self settle when they wake, or do we rush in to help them back to sleep at the first sign of a murmur? Just as adults are creatures of habit, babies and children thrive on routine and consistency. It makes them feel confident and secure when they know what they can expect from having structure in their day (meal times, nap times, bed times, play times), in how we respond to them and the boundaries that we establish for their behaviour. If we want to experience more consistency with our children’s sleeping patterns long-term, then we must be consistent (and persistent) with our routine, responses, and parenting approach. It also pays to tune into your intuition as to what your baby is communicating through their cries. Not every cry requires intervention; all babies wake several times a night, the main difference is in their ability to get back to sleep without help from a parent. By providing them the opportunity for time and space (even 2-5 minutes so long as their cries are not emotional/urgent) you can help encourage their transition to more independent sleep.
Nightmares can start as early as 9 months of age, and fear of the dark (among others such as; monsters) commonly starts from age 2. There can be many contributing factors; overstimulation, overtiredness, scary books or frightening shows, nutrition, hydration, and anxiety/stress. An age appropriate routine (including rest/nap time during the day), plenty of water, avoiding anti-sleep foods, a regular bedtime that is not too late, and a relaxing, predictable bedtime routine with sleep associations such as comforter can help. Avoid scary books/movies, and use of technology such as iPads, iPhones, Television, game consoles and computers at least 1-2 hours before bedtime (these can cause overstimulation and interfere with our melatonin levels). Environmental solutions may include a soft night-light (preferably red, such as a salt lamp), shutting all cupboard doors, and removing unnecessary stimulation/clutter such as wall decals, toys, hanging mobiles and artwork.
26) Our child’s ability to self settle:
If our child can’t fall asleep on their own, they will most often have difficulty falling back to sleep on their own. Anything we engage in to get them to sleep, they will rely on to get back to sleep. Actions such as; rocking, feeding, bouncing, holding, and using the dummy, although can all be beneficial in soothing our babies at times, can quickly become our child’s control patterns, and contribute to frequent wakings due to an inability to self settle. Tips to encourage your baby to safe settle in a gently and respectfully here.
27) Energy vs expenditure:
If the consumption of food/milk intake is consistently greater than physical output (such as; movement, growth, and developmental), then sleep quality and duration may be compromised. This seems to be more prevalent in babies who are comfort-fed on demand day and night, or when feeding is used as a settling tool for night wakings (most commonly in babies over 6 months of age). Encourage plenty of opportunity for your child to explore their environment during the day, and allow them time and space practice new physical movements such as rolling, crawling, cruising, and walking. Avoiding the impulse to snack/demand feed after 4 months of age can also encourage your child to have more adequate, full feeds, less often (day and night).
If a baby or child is not receiving adequate nutrition during the day (or is hungry), then it is common to experience catnapping, resistance at sleep times, frequent night wakings and persistent crying. Frequent water intake and snacks throughout the day can also help to prevent behavioural difficulties in toddlers (due to low blood sugar and/or dehydration) ‒ which can also result in bedtime challenges. There are also so many variables within this; age of baby and appropriate feeding schedule, baby led weaning vs pureed foods (baby-led weaning often means more on the floor than in the mouth), mum’s milk supply, food allergies and sensitivities, feeding on demand vs scheduled feedings, mum’s diet including medication, cotisol levels from anxiety/stress, and anti-sleep vs pro-sleep foods.
Light, noise, sound, temperature, smells, and toxins can impact on your child’s ability to sleep well. Blue light emitted from electronics (computers, iPhones, iPads, and TV) can also interfere with our children’s circadian rhythm/melatonin levels and lead to overstimulation. Keep in mind that the optimal environment can be heavily influenced by the age of your child – e.g. babies under 12 months will require additional bedding layers as they are unable to effectively regulate their own body temperature, and/or a soft light night may be necessary for older toddlers (2 years onward) as some may develop fear of the dark. Remember too, that sometimes regression in sleep may call for change to your child’s environment!
30) Our willingness (as parents) to change what isn’t working:
It’s our job as parents, to give our children the benefit of the doubt when things get tough in the sleep department – and in life in general. BUT; there is a fine line between benefit of the doubt, making excuses, and/or complacency. How long are you willing to ride out the storm, or cross your fingers hoping things will get better? (most sleep issues don’t improve for the long term without us making change on some level). We must be cautious not to sacrifice our own happiness, well-being, health, and sanity for the fear of rocking the boat for our children. Children are extremely adaptable, and most of the time, any undesirable sleep habits are just as much the parent’s as the child’s (keep in mind, we are the ones responsible for creating our children’s habits to begin with!). If things aren’t working, then we must have the honesty to acknowledge it, and the willingness, strength, commitment to change it.