Mothers and fathers sometimes expect that their child’s sleep habits will change overnight, often leading to unnecessary parental anxiety when a child is not sleeping through the night. It is important to get to know your child’s sleep patterns and identify any unhelpful habits which may be preventing them from developing healthy sleep associations. Here are the top 8 baby sleep mistakes new parents make, and how they can be avoided:
Having a bedtime routine is absolutely crucial as it helps to set up long term positive sleep associations. Your bedtime can be as relaxed and flexible as your situation and your baby’s temperament allows, but it is paramount that a routine is established. It is also important to avoid switching between multiple training methods, stopping and starting the process, or approaching the routine without consistency and commitment.
Babies send out sleep signals, which need to be learnt and listened to. Such sleep signals include: babies avoiding your gaze, arching their backs and crying. If you miss their natural window for sleep, your baby will be overstimulated and overtired. It is important to find the age appropriate wake windows. Pay attention and you will see a pattern develop.
Being kind, responsive and flexible to your babies need is important – but monitor your response. For example, is your “go-to” when your baby cries, to always pick them up? Will your baby only sleep on you? Are they always fed to sleep? This could develop into an unhealthy sleep prop and your baby becomes dependent on this behaviour as a result. In order to change your baby’s behaviour, it is important to first change your own.
As much as we want to continue with our old lives and insist this little person will not interrupt them, unfortunately this is not realistic. Your baby requires a constant sleep environment to ensure the best quality sleep is achieved. Too many naps in the stroller or car-seat result in an overtired baby. Trying too many sleep strategies can also confuse a child and also impact the quality of sleep.
A baby’s sleep requirement is different from ours. A baby’s sleep cycle is shorter, and its content is different (0-6 months old sleep cycle is 45-50 mins, whereas an adult’s sleep cycle is roughly 1.5 hours). The sleep hormone melatonin is also released earlier in the day than in adults, and so parents should avoid forcibly keeping their child awake.
Follow your instincts! Although other parents and professionals may have useful advice, it is important to remember that you know yourself and your baby better than anyone else. Ignore any smug brags about how other children started sleeping through the night when they were only a few weeks old – each child is different. Most babies can’t sleep through the night till at least four months of age, and many until at least 6 months. Remember you are not alone and don’t set unrealistic expectations.
Your baby is very adaptive and no one parent loves the baby more than the other one. Also, this can only be “shown” by consistent interaction and time by both parents. Besides, being part of the night time routine is a hugely important part of bonding.
Another mistake many parents make in the early days, is NOT being on the same page! This will result in your child receiving a mixed message – especially when it comes to sleep. Talk about and agree as to how you will resolve sleep issues. When parents trust the process, the baby will trust the process.
Julie Mallon is a British trained nurse, midwife and sleep consultant and Founder of NurtureToSleep, a sleep consultancy. Julie has completed a 15 week programme with the Infant Mental Health Promotion provided by the University of Toronto and is currently registered with the International Maternity and Parenting Institute. She became certified with popular North American Sleep Coach and author Kim West in June 2016.