Sleep and food go hand-in-hand. It can be a vicious cycle which is difficult to break when these get out of harmony! I actually have a whole section on this in my new book coming out in August. Sleep, or a lack of it, is one of the biggest challenges we are faced with as parents, especially in that first year. I really encourage mums and families to seek help when struggling with this – we are not meant to know everything about parenting – which includes getting your baby to sleep!
This weekend I am down speaking in Hamilton for our National Starting Solids Tour – home to the incredible Emma Anderson who is the founder of Sweet Dreams NZ – she is also delivering a presentation at this event and she has a guest blog here on tips to help with self-settling.
Emma Anderson – Founder of Sweet Dreams NZ
Like many areas of infant sleep, the topic of self-settling has varied opinions and philosophies on when you can start teaching your baby how to self-settle, and even if it is the right thing to do. In my professional opinion having worked with many families and my own experience as a mother of two, teaching your baby to self-settle is one of the most important components in establishing healthy sleep habits – not only for the child, but for the parents as well.
By self-settling, I am referring to a child that is able to fall asleep on their own, without the use of sleep aids especially those that involve you (or another adult!). For example nursing to sleep, rocking, a stroller, or a car ride. When babies associate something like rocking or feeding to fall asleep, they will often require these same conditions when they wake during the night – this can make for a very long night for mum or dad.
When a baby who has the ability to self-settle wakes after a short nap or during the night, they are waking in the exact same conditions they went to sleep in, so naturally are able to return back to sleep without your help. The process of self-settling is a learned behaviour, so as parents I believe we need to teach and help our children learn this skill. We do of course have to take this process very slowly with newborns, however my suggestion is to try and start teaching this skill between 6-12 weeks of age, and attempt to make it the norm from about 12 weeks of age.
Here are some tips to help your little one learn this all important skill of self-settling:
- Follow the ‘drowsy but awake’ theory. This means your baby should be going into their cot awake, so they are learning to fall asleep on their own. You can rock or cuddle them to get them to a drowsy state, but try putting them down before they fall asleep in your arms.
- Set the stage. Your child needs to be on the right sleep schedule for their age. A regular sleep routine (day and night) will set your baby’s internal body clock, making sleep times predictable and making falling asleep and staying asleep much easier.
- Make sure your baby isn’t overtired. If your baby is very cranky, fussy, rubbing eyes etc. before sleep time, they will have a much harder time falling asleep. If this is the case, move naptime or bedtime earlier so you catch that magic sleep window, making falling asleep on their own easier.
- Experiment and be patient. This is a learning process (just like crawling or walking), so give your baby time to develop this skill. If your baby is under 3 months of age, you might attempt the ‘drowsy but awake’ once a day and slowly increase from there.
- Don’t rush to your baby at the first sign of a cry. Give your baby a few minutes and they may surprise you by figuring it out for themselves without you having to intervene. This is quite different to just letting your baby ‘cry it out’ – you are just giving them time to have a go themselves and you are actively listening for any cries that are different, this may take both of you some time to work out.
- Introduce some ‘positive associations’ in teaching your baby it is sleep time – such as a sleeping bag or swaddle (depending on age), a comforter, white noise, and a nice dark room.
Just remember that you know your baby best so if there’s any doubt that your baby may be crying for food, wind, sickness, a soiled nappy, or anything else out of the ordinary, then it’s important that we comfort and help baby with those issues first.
Here at Sweet Dreams our personalised sleep plans are perfect for us to assess your situation and provide a tailored solution that us unique to your child, and parenting style. These also include advice on how to teach your baby to self-settle and remove any sleep props (if required). Get in touch with us for a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your situation. We’d love to hear from you just drop us a message on Facebook or check out our website here.
You can also hear Emma speak this weekend in Hamilton! This is a wonderful chance to get all your baby food and sleep questions answered plus there are goodie bags for everyone, spot prizes, a baby food cooking demo and lots more! Just click here to book your ticket (we sold out in Auckland!)
xxx Dr Julie Bhosale