Regardless of your chosen parenting method, there’s one thing everyone can agree on when it comes to raising a child: Sleep is important. It’s important for you and it’s especially important for your baby, whose brain is undergoing a developmental marathon. However, for families with a little one in the house, it often doesn’t come easy, leaving sleep-deprived parents desperate for a cure to bedtime troubles.
Fortunately, poor sleep doesn’t have to be a chronic problem for families with small children. With consistency and a good routine — and perhaps a little outside help — it’s possible to support your baby’s natural sleep rhythms and leave everyone in the household feeling rested and refreshed.
A Good Foundation
The term “sleep training” can be controversial in some parenting circles, but in reality, starting with good sleep habits at the get-go can set your infant up to be a good sleeper for life. “It is never too early or too late to implement positive sleep routines, but they must also be balanced with age appropriate methods and expectations,” says Karolyn Kritikos, sleep consultant at Sleep and Sensibility, which serves the Cincinnati area.
The first step is to practice safe sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines include laying the baby on his back on a firm surface, such as a bassinet or crib, with no soft bedding, for the first year. It’s also helpful to establish a routine where your child can get about 12 hours of sleep per night. Be aware that in the first few months of life, your baby will not sleep completely through the night. However, if by 6 months old, he is on a normal growth curve and at least 14 pounds, but not sleeping soundly, you may want to reach out to a sleep consultant, like Kritikos, for help.
Common Sleep Issues
Kritikos says that between the ages of 6 and 9 months is the perfect window for beginning sleep training if you have concerns about your child’s sleep habits. There are two main sleep issues often seen in children:
- Sleeping independently. They may take short naps and wake often throughout the night. They need mom or dad to connect the sleep cycles by feeding, rocking or holding, particularly for lengthy amounts of time.
- Poor napping. Going too long between naps can leave a child to feel overtired, meaning they nap too long or have a hard time falling and staying asleep.
When Kritikos meets with her clients, she presents a variety of different sleep training methods and offers ways to provide comfort to their child along the way.
“Seeking the help of a professional consultant can help you clear through the clutter of the online noise and numerous books with conflicting info to the roots of the method that is going to support your family,” Kritikos says. “The one-on-one support can help you face small setbacks and adjust as needed, so that you reach your goals quickly and comfortably.”
Sleep Training Misconceptions
Sleep training isn’t for every family. Some parents identify with a parenting philosophy that doesn’t support sleep training, or they fear it could negatively affect the child. “Helping our children make changes to their current sleep routines is often met with some fear and pushback, both from the child and the parents,” Kritikos says. “My job is to help parents feel less fearful about implementing changes so that they can make the changes confidently, which ultimately helps the child feel more comfortable.”
If you’re considering sleep training, but still have some reservations about it, here are some ideas that may ease your mind:
Sleep training is not necessarily “cry it out.” If a provider is pressuring you to practice a type of sleep training that doesn’t feel right or align with your values, then consider finding one who can be more supportive.
Sleep training won’t come without tears. Introducing a new concept to your child is often met with protesting. If you feel guilt or disappointment that your child cries when trying to implement a new schedule, give yourself grace and be confident that what you’re doing will be better for your family in the long run.
Let go of the idea that sleep comes naturally. Many things in our culture, from artificial lighting to the food we eat, can play a role in poor sleep. However, by establishing a good foundation for sleep, you can foster your child’s natural sleep rhythms.
With a little help, you and your baby may be able to stop counting sheep and start looking forward to a restful night’s sleep.