When my first child was born, I had no idea what to expect regarding sleep or lack thereof. In fact, I was blissfully unaware of the sleep deprivation that so many fear!
Unprepared and with no plan or structure, my 9lb boy slipped straight into a good feeding sleeping rhythm right away – I could pretty well set my watch by him and his 4hourly feeds with one longer stretch in the night.
We adopted a simple bedtime routine of a bath, bottle then bed and okay, so he used a dummy and sometimes we paced up and down a little with him to nod off. It didn’t seem like any big deal.
As the months went by and I became more of sleep challenges others were facing, I felt mildly smug as we seemed to be doing just fine…Until!!
It was when he was around 15 months. I was pregnant with our second child and the dummy was beginning to become ‘a thing’. He now wanted it in the daytime too and it was taking a lot more effort to get him off to sleep.
Then came the early morning wakings and along with the disturbed nights doing the dummy run and need for motion to get any kind of nap from him…we were all getting more and more sleep deprived.
At 21 months, his sister was born. Now, two babies not sleeping was not something we willing to deal with so we sought some advice and had the most incredible transformation in just 3 days!
If I knew then what I know now….
What I didn’t realise in the early months and right up until he was about 15 months, was that it had been fluke and not skill.
We were inducing sleep for him and the rhythm to it was complete fluke. He wasn’t learning or developing the skills he was ready for which is why this fluke wore off in time.
We were lucky with the natural feeding rhythm so early on and could have totally used that to our advantage by getting the most from his sleep ability. He was sustained for good stretches between hunger so a little settling practice would have helped him develop more skill as he was ready.
So how can you determine whether your child is sleeping well by fluke or skill?
Settles in under 5 mins:
When you put your little one down, does he fall asleep in 5 minutes or less? Even when you place them down with eyes open and you’re convinced they are awake, if they are asleep in under five minutes, they’re actually going down in the very early stages of sleep and there is little to no skill involved in this type of settle.
Parents who tell me their child settles fine at bedtime but has multiple night wakings and cannot resettle often transpire to be in this situation.
Done for him:
Is the falling asleep part done for him? So are you rocking, feeding, pacing, patting or stroking him off to sleep? If he needs something to be done to him or for him in order to fall asleep then this is not a self settle and will lead to a delay in developing this essential skill when ready.
Not getting enough sleep overall:
A lack of sleep overall may leave you with just the right amount of over-tiredness to get you ‘crash-out’ sleeps for a while. The danger here is firstly that the child is zonking out with extreme tiredness rather than self settling and also it won’t last this way – The lack of practice self settling at bedtime will lead to a deterioration of the skill or sabotage of learning it at all and the tiredness won’t see big ‘crash-out’ sleeps for long – Soon the over-tiredness will see effects like difficulty falling asleep, disturbed sleep and early wakings!!
What can you do to help develop the skills she is ready for?
Under 5 months you can practice these things and over 5 months you can work on them with consistent intention…
Ensure you put your little one down for sleep ready for sleep but still awake. The gauge is on how long it takes her to settle and you’re looking for it to take more than 5 minutes. 10-20 minutes is totally normal too.
At least one nap practice in cot:
Have a shorter version of bedtime routine for nap time routine and practice this at least once per day so your little one learns how to sleep soundly for naps in the daytime.
Respond consistently to wakings when it’s not hunger:
Whatever your little ones to get to sleep at the onset, is what she will need to resettle when she wakes between sleep stages (which we all do to some degree by the way). Ensure you know how you are going to respond when you know it’s not hunger and consistently see this response through for every waking to help her get used to settling in this way.
Remember, we are only ever trying to get the best from our little ones’ abilities and don’t underestimate what he is capable of! Practice in the early months, persevere with consistency and you’ll guide your child’s development of healthy sleep skills.