It’s all too easy to get stressed out over expectations of how your baby or toddler “should” be sleeping and settling. There are so many books extolling different advice, and friends and family all want to share their experiences and insights. While you’re grateful and know that everyone is well intentioned, the differences in opinions and suggestions can leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed.
A few basic baby and child sleep rules do hold true for almost everyone, including trying to avoid unsustainable habits, making sure your little one gets enough rest, and making sure his or her sleep place is safe and comfortable. But, beyond that, what typically works best is to relax and focus on bonding and enjoying your baby, rather than stressing about too many details and “shoulds”.
I receive similar questions from lots of new parents. Here are some of my top sleep tips, based on those questions I know so many of you face.
Allow for naps on the go.
There is no need to have all the naps at home. As long as your baby or child knows where her usual sleep place is and settles reasonably well, it’s perfectly fine to do some naps on the move. In fact, it’s actually good to build some flexibility, and great for you to know you are not chained to your home, a slave to your baby’s nap schedule.
Tip: Just before your baby or child usually starts to get tired, feed her and then head out together. This way, she’ll be happy and content when you leave, which puts her in a better frame of mind to fall asleep on the go.
Follow your baby’s sleep signs.
There are averages of how much sleep babies need, but there’s no need to get too hung up about it – every baby is different and no two days will be exactly the same. Get to know what your little one does just before sleep time and be on the lookout for the signs, including grizzling, rubbing her eyes and yawning.
Tip: Try to avoid letting her get overly tired, as this makes it more difficult for your baby to settle.
Have a good pattern to the day, but know that it’s OK to be a bit flexible from time to time.
Just make sure that on most days the feeds and sleeps are around the same time. If your baby or toddler learns to self-settle, she’s likely to regulate her sleep and feeding needs without too much help from you anyway.
Learn to settle your baby.
Try to have some quiet play just before sleep times. Take just a few minutes to check her nappy and give her a cuddle, and then put your baby in the crib with minimum fuss and move away if you can. If she’s not having that, put your hand on your baby, rock her a little in the crib, say “Shh shh” – whatever seems to work – but be mindful to keep it to a minimum.
If she wakes too early from a nap and still looks tired, try to resettle her, ideally in the crib. If she still isn’t re-settling after about 20 minutes, get her up, take her out to the living room and then try again later when you see tired signs again.
Try to be relaxed. If you start to feel anxious, take some deep, relaxing breaths.
Tip:Settle your baby for sleep at reasonably consistent times each day to set a pattern for her to follow.
Help your baby develop sleep skills.
Many young babies have erratic and inconsistent napping in the early months. Her sleep requirements can change from week to week, so try to stay open to change. Try not to get discouraged – just try again later. Be mindful of not increasing how much you help, or your baby may learn to rely on it and fail to settle on her own without your ever-increasing input.
Concentrate your efforts on developing sleep skills at bedtime and at night wakings, attending to your baby if she’s hungry or obviously very upset, but not responding to every move and murmur. When your baby has developed good self-settling skills at night, it will be easier for her to use those same skills for daytime napping.
Most importantly, try to go with the flow, enjoy your baby and keep your stress levels down, and she’ll get the hang of sleeping in good time. And that means you and your family will get more sleep, too!
Deborah Taylor is the Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and Director at Infant Sleep Resources. Learn more at www.infantsleepresources.com