It has been a pretty intense month. More teething, more colds, more milestones. Considering we are currently in a ‘sunny’ patch with respect to the wonder weeks, then I can only assume that my bad habits, hectic lifestyle, teething pains, and the frustration of trying to crawl, is to blame for our current state of sleep regression.
At times it can feel as though it is two steps forward, one step backward (or vice versa) when it comes to baby sleep. Just when you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, **BAM** along comes something else. I think it’s life’s way of reminding us to expect the unexpected; grooming us for the teenage years ahead (at least for now, we know where our babies are sleeping and what they are doing!).
One thing I am very passionate about is being real; real about what we can REALLY expect with babies and sleep in the first year. I know many might think “but she is a sleep consultant; surely she can get her kid to sleep?” And the answer is yes, but no. Everything in life is more complex when we are emotionally involved; and when we are emotionally involved (sleep consultant , or otherwise), it can be difficult to see the forest through the trees. We are all human; we get exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, confused, pushed to our limits, and our confidence at times can feel as though it is shattered in a million pieces. So whilst I know what to do, whilst I know things can be much better than what they are, sometimes the variables in life just mean I am not capable of changing right now.
It’s the basic pleasure-pain principle; we will do more to avoid pain than we will to gain pleasure. In baby sleep terms, this means that: until the sleep issue becomes so difficult (or painful) that we are forced to change, we will persist with the way things are. It is also important to consider one’s ability to prioritise the changes required; whether current lifestyle permits the time, consistency, dedication, and persistence, in order to reap the rewards with improved sleeping patterns.
My mantra is always; nothing is a problem, unless it is a problem for you. And whilst yes, like anyone, I would like some more sleep; I am not complaining. I know too well how developmentally normal these phases are, and that I cannot possibly expect my little guy to sleep any better considering my current circumstance (home renovations, moving, studying, working, and being a mother to three children under 5). I have made peace with where Jett is at, where I am at, and where my life is at right now. It has not yet become all-consuming, stressful, exhausting, or unbearable – perhaps until it does, we will just keep riding the highs and lows of this thing called sleep (or life).
Even if I can’t muster the how, I have the clarity to know why things aren’t going so great (sleep wise) right now;
- Teething; he has cut two bottom teeth, and there’s signs of more to come
- Sitting up
- Rocking on hands and knees (crawling imminent). At most naps and bedtime now, he will take a while to fall asleep, and/or wake prematurely rocking on all fours and getting wedged in strange positions at the end of his cot
- Slithering forward and backward on his belly (**sort of** commando crawling)
- Eating anything and everything (Among his favourites are; nanny’s tuna rice, banana, avocado sandwiches, miso soup, sushi, lamb chops and vegetable mash)
- Overtired and Overstimulated– nap refusal or shorter naps when at home (due to renovation noise and overstimulation from workmen in and out), and poor naps from or being in transit, stroller or carrier 80% of the time (school drop off, pick up, and having to be out of home because of painting etc). Overtired-ness is the number one sleep stealer, also causing bed time refusal, and frequent night wakings due to heightened cortisol levels
- Out of routine – for reasons as above, this also means that Jett may be up for 5 hours at a time without sleeping (a long time considering this is double his ‘ideal’ wake window of 2.5hrs!) – and the vicious overtired cycle ensues…
The viscous cycle with being overtired usually leads to bedtime resistance; which often requires more intervention from us to get them to sleep (e.g. holding/rocking/feeding to sleep), which in turn, causes them to keep waking every 20-30 minutes as they are unable to transition themselves into the next sleep cycle unassisted. Add teething, raised cortisol levels, and the inability to unwind from all the frustration and excitement of physical (and/or cognitive) milestones – and you have a baby who is waking up to 6 times per night (or more)!
We have made progress. I can let you know that I have slept nights in my own bed (**high fives**), only getting up for a dreamfeed and perhaps one other overnight feed (perfectly developmentally normal for a 7 month old). But more lately, I have taken the path of least resistance, and we are co-sleeping once again. It’s a no-brainer; sleep with Jett and wake 1-3 times, or sleep in my own bed and wake up every 1-2 hours). I always maintain; you have to do what works for you and your family at the time – stuff what other people are doing, or what anyone says you “should” be doing (probably one of the biggest lessons in parenthood). Bad habits can always be overturned; nothing lasts forever. Follow your gut, and keep a sense of humour (because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry – right?!). And whilst what I am doing is working for me right now, I’ll keep on doing it.
Some useful tips to improve sleep when you may not be capable of routine overhaul:
- Special time (or uninterrupted one on one time) with your child each day (at least 5 minutes per day, more if you have time)
- Respond to your child’s needs. Support them to cry, tantrum, and offload feelings as they arise throughout the day. This can prevent them from waking (as) often overnight with big feelings which have been repressed during the day – feelings of frustration, excitement and overwhelm can be especially common during times of milestones, when our babies are learning and practicing constantly throughout the day, and naturally they want to be able to master the next stage of their development e.g. crawling (which as we know, doesn’t always happen overnight!)
- Where you can, try to adhere to the optimal awake windows between naps to avoid over tiredness. For a 7 month old, this is 2hrs (ideally in the morning) then 2.5hrs for every nap thereafter. Most babies will be capable of being awake between 0.5-1.5hrs past this window (i.e. 4hrs for a 7 month old), so long as it is only once per day at most. Keep in mind not all babies can stretch past their optimal window, so trial and error is necessary. When sick or teething, try to keep to the shorter awake window (2hrs for a 7 month old)
- Try to schedule regular milk feeds (around meal times) during the day (approx every 4-5hrs). This can help rule out overnight wakings due to hunger
- Where you plan to be out and about, take all your child’s creature comforts such as; sleeping bag, comforter, dummy, white noise (can download the Sleepy Sounds app onto your phone), and a sheet to darken the pram (although preferably not on hot days as this can restrict airflow and lead to overheating)
- It’s always preferable to plan appointments around your child’s nap time (as they sleep more soundly in their own environment). However, if you are going to be out of the house at nap times; schedule long car trips at the start of your child’s nap time, or plan to arrive to your destination earlier so you can settle them to sleep at the start of their nap in the pram, or baby carrier
- Remain flexible; many parents become stressed or anxious when they can’t stick to a schedule (especially with a lifestyle which includes travel, full-time work, or if they have other children to care for). Some consistency is better than none – even if you choose just one nap for them to be home for during the day (the first nap is usually the most restorative)
- If your days are hectic, then ensure you can maintain a consistent bedtime routine (max 20 minutes) including dark room (ideally between 19-22 °C, white noise, book/song/talk, sleeping bag, comforter etc. Some play-listening, or responsive/reactive play before bed (encourage movement) can allow your chid to release any stress or tensions from their day, promotes laughter and trust, and strengthens the parent-child bond. This is especially beneficial if you are struggling to incorporate special time into your day!
- Click here for some tips on managing teething and sleep
- Click here for further information on milestones in the first 12 months, and what we can do to help our babies sleep better at these times
Until next time, with love,
Sophie & Jett xoxox
More tips, routines, and recommendations for 7 months and beyond here