It’s Sleep Week here on FBM! Kinda like Shark Week…only the babies who steal sleep are way scarier than sharks. Monday I raved about how No Cry Sleep Solution changed my life, and then yesterday I shared the tips that I thought especially helped my daughter’s sleep. Today, No Cry Sleep Solution author Elizabeth Pantley answers my burning baby-sleep questions. If your baby’s not letting you get your zzz’s read on, sleep-deprived mama! (And make sure you check out her book and website for backup!)
Elizabeth Pantley’s Baby Sleep Tips
- FBM: What are the biggest mistakes parents make when it comes to their kids’ sleep habits?
- EP: I believe the biggest mistake is in blindly trusting someone else’s advice for your own child. There are no absolute rules when raising a child, and you should address only those problems that are true problems to you, and don’t create or imagine problems because someone else thinks you have them, no matter if that person is family, friend or expert. I hear many stories of people who take action on an issue because someone else pointed out a problem that the parent never felt she had!
- FBM: What are your three (or five, if you’ve got them!) top tips for helping a baby sleep through the night?
- EP: Five tips:
- 1. Learn to read your child’s sleepy signals and allow him to sleep when he wants to sleep. Keeping a tired child awake leads to fussiness, crying, tantrums, and ultimately, more sleep problems.
- 2. Babies make lots of noises in their sleep, so when you put your baby down for a nap or to sleep at night, and later hear noises, don’t immediately run to pick her up. First, stop and listen for a few minutes, peek in on her without her seeing you. If you are co-sleeping with your baby, and she begins to make noises, don’t move—just listen. Cue in to your baby’s sounds and movements to determine if she is awake or just making sleeping noises or shifting sleep cycles.
- 3. Take advantage of gentle sounds to help your baby sleep better. “White noise” sounds or soft bedtime music can help many babies to relax and fall asleep—and stay asleep—more easily than a totally quiet room. It is soothing plus it masks outside noises that might wake him.
- 4. Keep the hour before bedtime quiet and dimly lit. Darkness signals to the brain that it is time to sleep. Darkness encourages the release of the body’s natural sleep hormone, melatonin. This is a very powerful, natural phenomenon that allows your baby to be tired—and fall asleep easily at bedtime.
- 5. Give your baby a chance to fall asleep unaided. Babies are incredibly sweet, and it’s easy to keep such a precious package in your arms, or in a sling, even after they have fallen asleep. The hitch here is that your baby will easily become accustomed to being held as she falls asleep. She’ll soon be unable to fall asleep on her own. You can avoid creating this almost inevitable scenario by placing your baby in her crib, cradle, hammock or cradle-swing when she is comfortable and drowsy, but not entirely asleep. It’s perfectly fine to pat or rub her leg, head or tummy as she drifts off. Just gradually make your touch slower and softer, until your hand is lying still on her. Then slowly remove your touch.
- FBM: Any advice to give new parents to prevent sleep problems down the road?
- EP: Pay attention to the routines and rituals that surround naptime and bedtime. Babies grow to rely on these and won’t sleep well without them. For example, I get tons of letters from parents whose babies will only fall asleep while bounced on an exercise ball!
- FBM: How often do you get emails from parents who say that you’ve changed their lives?
- EP: Oh, my goodness! I get emails every single day that touch my heart. It’s the most wonderful thing, and what keeps me going day after day.
- FBM: What do you do when your baby falls asleep for an unscheduled nap and then tuckers out earlier than bedtime? My daughter did this today, wouldn’t take her afternoon nap and is now snoozing well before bedtime. I’m sure others might have the same question!
- EP: Most often this happens because a baby doesn’t have a specific nap schedule, and so is put down for sleep at a different time every day. This doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it should be pretty consistent. A baby’s biological clock can be set pretty easily—by picking a nap time and sticking to it seven days a week.
When you determine you actually feel you have a problem, then do some research. There are typically many possible solutions to pick from. Analyze the possible solutions, and choose those solutions that are right for you and your family. Know that there is rarely one right answer, and often it will take multiple efforts before settling on your best sleep plan.
I love Elizabeth’s point of view on doing what works for your family. So important for parents to only fix problems that are problems for them. A huge thank you to Elizabeth for sharing her sleep expertise, and for, you know, changing my life. —Erin