What I Wish I Had Known About Infant Sleep
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
For expectant parents, there is a lot of information-sharing about pregnancy, labour and delivery and even an increasing amount about (breast)feeding your baby. There is so little about infant sleep, yet it is at the forefront of our minds for the first several years of our child’s life! Here are a few things I wish I had known about infant sleep before becoming a parent.
HOW a child falls asleep is of the utmost importance.
When babies are born, they are not yet developmentally capable of “self-soothing”. They need to be “parented” to sleep. Crying to sleep can create a feeling of distress for the infant, versus going to sleep peacefully, which will create a sense of rightness with their world. As neuro-scientist Carla Shatz put it, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” The more a pathway is used, the easier it becomes to use, so when a child’s early relationships are chronically stressful, he feels stress more quickly as an adult.” Conversely, if he easily and often feels relaxed when going to sleep, this will become second-nature throughout his life. One of the most important things we can teach our children about sleep is that it is a peaceful place to go and a safe place in which to remain!¹
Sleep associations are not a bad thing!
We all have sleep associations. Routines or items that help to tell our bodies when it’s time to sleep. We may have a bedtime routine of brushing our teeth, putting on our pyjamas and quietly reading a book before bed. With babies, we often believe that sleep associations such as nursing to sleep, using a soother or sleeping with a lovey are a “crutch” when, in fact, they are a good thing! These things signal sleep for our babies and help lull them off to a peaceful place. Don’t be afraid of supporting sleep associations for your child; they can even take the pressure of Mom and Dad so you don’t have to work so hard. If we wish to change or remove a sleep association at some point down the road, we can certainly do that!²
Sleep is not linear!
I mistakenly thought that after about 3 months, my child’s sleep would stabilize and we would be sleeping through the night. Boy, was I wrong! Babies and toddlers experience a variety of ups and downs in their sleep as they go through various developmental milestones. At 3 months they might sleep quite well and then go through a “regression” at 4-5 months as their stimulus barrier thins. They may sleep well again during a “sweet spot” at 6 months, but have disturbed sleep again when they begin to roll over, crawl or cruise. This up and down trend continues throughout the infant and toddler years as they go through various changes. Having realistic expectations makes these ups and downs so much easier to handle!³
If you resent it, you can (and should) change it!
Often as parents, we begin a routine with our baby that works for us at the time. As time goes on, our babies get bigger or perhaps the routine becomes too demanding, yet we stick with it. We don’t have to! As long as we maintain reasonable expectations for our child’s age and remain responsive to his/her needs, we can set certain boundaries and make necessary changes. Such changes are often necessary for the well-being of the parent or caregiver! Perhaps you’re rocking your child to sleep, nursing all night long or bouncing or a yoga ball and it’s no longer working for you; no problem! If you resent it, let’s change it! Need to wean your child or change your sleeping arrangement? How about introducing new ways for your child to fall asleep? Please contact me for a free consultation call; I’m happy to help!
What do you wish you had known before becoming a parent? What nuggets of wisdom can you share? Please feel free to comment!
¹ Wiessinger, D., West, D., Smith, L., Pitman, T., Sweet Sleep. 2014. Chapter 18: Sleep Training Concerns, 2014, p. 311-335.
² Sears. W, The Baby Sleep Book, Chapter 1: Five Steps to Get Your Baby to Sleep Better, 2005, p. 13-27.
³ Sears. W, The Baby Sleep Book, Chapter 3: The Facts About Infant Sleep and What They Mean for Parents, 2005, p. 57-82.