May 2nd, 2022
Generic sleep schedules are a great torture tool for parents! I remember when I fell for it. My daughter was about 3 months old, and I had stumbled upon an incognito sleep trainer who promised results if I just followed her schedule. It worked like a charm for the first two days, and then all hell broke loose. When it stopped working, I had no idea what to do, and the only advice from the sleep trainer was to leave her alone to figure it out.
I spent the entire day in the dark trying to get her to fall asleep and transfer her to her crib. It was the day everything changed for me. I gave up, held her for the rest of the day and swore to my husband that I would never try to follow advice from anyone else ever again.
It became crystal clear that no one knew my baby and her needs better than I did. I released all external expectations of what my daughter’s sleep should be. The following months and years were completely different. I followed her cues and my gut, and sleep became so much easier.
There isn’t a parent out there who hasn’t been tempted by the promise of the perfect sleep schedule. Whether based on age, a magical combo of wake windows, essential oils or sleep environment; the expectations felt by parents following these recommendations can lead to disaster.
The truth is, just like adults, all babies are different. Do you sleep for the same amount of time as your partner? Probably not. Does your second baby sleep exactly like your first baby? Probably not. Focusing on routine, rhythm and using predictability for your child can be much more beneficial. Here are my favorite tips to create a flexible routine that works for the whole family.
Rhythm and Routine vs. Schedule
No one can be forced to sleep, this is why trying to force a schedule that doesn’t work for your baby can be so frustrating. Instead note the flow of the day, not the clock. Creating a doable daily routine will require some trial and error. Start with what an ideal morning looks like for you. Spend a week or so noting when your baby starts showing sleepy cues, what activities calms them down and what riles them up.
By releasing attachment to the goal of a certain sleep schedule, parents can focus on connecting with their child, and co-regulating a stress free environment for sleep. When a parent spends 45 minutes trying to rock a baby to sleep who isn’t ready to go to sleep, this will likely cause a lot of frustration for the parent. In turn, the child cannot surrender to the vulnerability of sleep when their caregiver is transmitting stress via the interbrain (we are constantly connected to those around us via the interbrain). Your child relies heavily on the interbrain to fill in the gaps of their immature, underdeveloped brain.
Creating the environment for babies to feed and sleep according to their unique needs allows them to stay in touch with their bodies and cues. As they get older, this connection to self will serve them in every aspect of life.
“…what is happening in the first year of life is that the baby is starting to form patterns. This is what our brains are designed to do. Our brains are designed to form patterns around us, and we’re really good at finding them…When it (the brain) sees a pattern, the baby can anticipate what’s about to happen. Why is this so important? Because what it does is dramatically reduce stress. If a baby knows what’s about to happen, the baby won’t be scared or startled… If the baby has no idea what’s about to happen, then what we find is heightened stress reactivity.”-Dr. Stuart Shanker
But What About Brain Development?
A common line for sleep trainers is to claim that your baby MUST go to bed by a certain time, or MUST sleep so many hours consecutively for their brain to develop properly. While there is no argument that sleep is important for all brains – this is largely a marketing strategy. Wakeful babies are normal and healthy, and forcing babies into longer stretches of sleep before they are ready can be harmful. Babies wake for survival. Waking gives them the opportunity to check in with a caregiver if they are hungry, cold/hot, need to be changed or need contact and closeness (contrary to popular belief, this is just as important as other physical needs).
If your baby is rousing, and then quickly going back to sleep after a feed or a snuggle – this is considered “sleeping through”. ?
Temperament is important to consider when creating a routine. What calms one baby may be stimulating for another.
Although not all babies will fit neatly into these categories, there are three main temperaments:
Easy-Going/Flexible – Going with the flow is easy for these children, their eating and sleeping habits are pretty regular and they adapt well to change. These babies handle change well, but parents need to be intune and prepared when these babies have emotions they need to release. Because they react less, they have fewer opportunities to practice releasing big emotions.
Spirited, Active or Fiesty – These children may be considered fussy, and get upset easily by noise or new situations. These babies will rely heavily on their routines and being able to predict what’s going to happen next. Parents can use this to their advantage by prioritizing predictability, allowing the routine to flow more easily.
Deep Thinker or Cautious – These children are usually very withdrawn, shy and are very reactive in new situations. These babies will need the most structure around the routine and predictability. Accepting that when things don’t go as planned, there will likely be big emotions from these children, can allow parents to shift focus to patience and relying on comfort within the relationship.
Staying in the Lead
As with all aspects of our relationship with our children, staying in the lead is key to maintaining the context of attachment that is required for ideal development. When children can relax knowing that their caregivers have everything under control, sleep comes much easier for them.
Following a routine provides this for your child. By continually staying one step ahead, with a predictable routine, your child can more easily go with the flow.
Make sure that you make the routine as enjoyable as possible for YOU! Meeting your child’s needs is incredibly important, but your needs are important too.
If you have been thinking about bringing a partner or family member into your daily routine – be sure to incorporate that into your routine revamp! Bath time is a great way to bring someone else into the routine and give the primary caregiver some time to fill their tank before bedtime.
Relax into trial and error as you build a routine the whole family enjoys. Your baby knows how to sleep, your baby wants to sleep. Take pressure off of yourself by making sleep as simple as possible. When you take into account your child’s unique needs, your needs, and create the environment that works for both of you, sleep will come.
I would love to invite you to download my free guide, How to get Your Child to Follow Your Lead. This guide breaks down attachment (the preeminent need of all humans) by age. By focusing on attachment, you will build the relationship with your child that supports them to unfold into their greatest potential.
You have everything you need within you to parent your unique child. ?
If you feel like you need support with your child’s sleep, I would love to connect one-on-one with you!