We have compiled a list of the Top 10 Sleep Questions we receive. Learning how to get your baby to sleep can be one of the biggest challenges for new parents, and our Sleep Expert, Brandie, is here to help you every step of the way. Check out her answers to parents’ most popular questions, and good luck on your personal sleep journey!
1. How does one begin sleep training and at what age?
I have a question and it’s probably the most frequent. When I had my twins, I was told to let them cry it out, which did work but it feels like making them do that has affected our relationship. Now I have an almost 5 month old son. I have grown a little frustrated. We co-sleep which I love, but I want to be able to put him to bed and have some of my own time when all 3 are asleep. But he keeps waking up because I’m not there. So the big question is, how does one begin sleep training and at what age?
I do not advocate sleep training unless it is done very gently, I’m a believer that sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone, just like walking and talking. We do our best at setting our children up for healthy sleep habits by creating an environment conducive to sleep, and by showing them that they can trust us to answer their needs. One of the sleep facts that every parent needs to know is that babies have different “sleep personalities”. While some can sleep independently, others are higher-needs and demand to be with mom. Some can be extremely persistent and even if the parents do sleep train, it does not always work in 3 nights like the books promise. There is plenty of research that proves that our persistence to get babies to sleep independently is not natural and can cause negative effects in the attachment relationship (as you noted you experienced with your twins), and in areas of emotional and cognitive development, such as impulse control. The more persistent the personality, the more opportunity for fostering that strong character, if we respond with sensitivity. The good news is that it is never too late to foster attachment, and repair any damage you think may have been done.
If you can let go of your expectations of your 5 month old sleeping independently, and be present in this season of dependency, you will see it will come all too soon, where he is full of security and independence. I would suggest that you continue to be responsive, but look at other windows of opportunity for you to have alone time. Balance is critical so you can continue to function at a high level during the day. I would suggest working on building other attachment relationships so that your son can be put to bed by someone other than yourself. With practice, he will get more and more comfortable with these other caregivers and it will afford you some freedom. If you are open to having others feed him with a bottle, that allows you to go out at night, knowing the caregiver can feed him at his wake up(s). If you feel anxious leaving the children home at night, perhaps you can build attachment relationships with others that will allow you more freedom or ‘you time’ during the day.
2. Why is my baby waking up multiple times a night?
Hi there, my 9 month old, once a good sleeper (down by 6.30-7, dream-feed then sleep thru til 5.30-6) has started waking multiple times per night, routinely around 1.30am and nearly every 2 hrs thereafter, and cries until we go in and pick him up. Usually it has to be me rather than my husband to settle him down. This is killing us and I fear it will continue when I have to go back to work. It is also taking a major toll on our relationship as we (mostly me) are so sleep deprived. Help!!
Anything more than 5 hours straight is considered “sleeping through the night”. So your 9 month old sleeping from 7pm-1:30am is actually completely normal for your baby. Actually, there are many parents I know who have never had more than 3 hours in a row until their baby reached toddler-hood! What makes is so difficult is that he was sleeping all the way through and it has changed. Change is incredibly hard, as it is thrust upon us, making us feel out of control and afraid of things getting “worse”. 9 months is an extremely common age for sleep disturbances, because it is one of the most exciting times of development (preparing to walk). As their bodies and brains grow and their world expands, separation anxiety flares up to counter their new skills and keep them safe. I never recommend traditional sleep-training, but especially would not with a 9 month old, as this is such a sensitive time.
I always advise to never make a decision out of fear, but with LOVE top of mind – then you will never go wrong. You are probably right that when you go back to work the sleep disturbances will continue. This is normal as your son will be missing you and will have to, over time, learn that when he cannot see you, you will still be back. My suggestions to you are to look at what temporary changes you can make to your sleeping arrangements so that you can get through this phase as healthfully as possible. Can you sleep closer to your baby or in the same room once 1:30am hits? You will still have time alone in the evening for one on one with your partner, but simply move rooms for the second half of the night. Make sure it is a comfortable place for you to sleep. I would also recommend you go to bed an hour earlier (for now). Schedule weekly dates out with your partner to foster your relationship and de-stress.
3. How do I get my newborn to sleep at night instead of day?
What can my husband and I do to help our newborn turn the corner on day/night confusion? We try to stimulate her during the day and keep things mellow at night but she still wants to be wide awake 1-5am (and mama is beat!). Related question: is there any kind of routine you recommend for newborns re:bedtime/sleep? Thank you!
The first four months are a phase of complete disorganization for baby as they learn how to be out of womb. During this time, baby is soothed by having an “external womb” created through lots of baby-wearing, white noise, and motion. You are doing the right thing by keeping the environment more active during day, and reducing light and stimulation at night. If you can sleep when baby sleeps (take lots of naps) and let go, just temporarily, of thinking that sleep has to happen in 8 consolidated hours at nighttime, you will make it through this time. During the wake up time from 1-5am, try your best to stay in the room, keep lights low and keep it boring. Baby will be less compelled to wake if the party is over. In terms of routine, one I recommend is taking a tour around your home about 90 minutes prior to bedtime, and saying “Goodnight” while you dim and turn off the lights around your house. This 90 minute window is good to ensure the body’s natural melatonin is kicking in for sleep. Then engage in quiet activities, and the last 30 minutes prior to bed have a set series of events that you keep consistent. E.g. bath, books, massage, lullabies. If she wants to go to sleep before your routine is finished, that is absolutely fine.
4. How to get 4 month old to sleep through the night
I’d like to know when and how I can get my 4 month old to sleep through the night. Also, her naps are a mess. Lately she wakes after just 30 or 40 minutes and I can tell she isn’t well rested.
4 months is one of the toughest times in baby-rearing, mostly because all the books are telling us that they begin to sleep through the night at this age… and then we wonder what is wrong with our baby or our parenting when they don’t! Not yet sleeping through the night is completely normal at this age, so your first goal is to let go of that expectation, because unmet expectations cause you stress, and a tense energy at home makes it even harder for baby to trust sleep. At this young age, baby would probably still sleep best being worn in a carrier while you go about your day, or napping beside you in bed. If you know your baby wakes at the 30 or 40 min. mark you could try to sneak in with them and provide them with the comfort measures you used to help them to sleep so they do not completely wake up. It is common for babies to come out of one sleep cycle at this time and have difficulty entering the next, so if you are there to help them back to sleep they could stay asleep a little longer.
5. Why won’t my baby sleep anywhere but on my chest?
I am in desperate need of some help! I am a first time mom and my son is 2 months old and still will not sleep anywhere but on my chest. I am really desperate. I have tried laying him down when he is just about to sleep but he wakes right up and nothing will sooth him unless you pick him up.
I remember being in your shoes exactly. What you are going through is 120% NORMAL. If more people shared that fact, rather than perpetuating this myth of solitary sleepers in cribs, we would all be a lot better off. The first four months in a baby’s life are complete chaos, as he is trying so hard to get used to this crazy world. He wants and needs that womb environment to help keep him feeling secure and to keep all the noise out. At 2 months old you just need to do whatever you can to help him sleep. Enjoy his portability, and enjoy taking him out and about in a good ergonomic carrier or wrap. He can sleep on the go! Try to take the pressure off yourself and just enjoy a nap (or three!) with him. If you are looking for a book recommendation, I suggest “The Baby Sleep Book” by Dr. Sears or Sweet Sleep by LLL.
6. Why is my 11 month old fighting sleep so much?
My 11 month old fights sleep. He has a terrible time relaxing into sleep. Baths do not help. Baby massages do not help but instead agitate. Quiet walks don’t help. He’s obviously tired and will start to fall asleep as he nurses but as soon as he realizes he’s falling asleep he stiffens and barrel rolls and cries. He falls asleep on the boob but it takes about 45-60 mins, every 15-20 mins he will fall asleep and stiffen. About 2 times a week he will fall asleep peacefully and easily. We are gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and eat plenty of greens and fruits and veggies. He falls asleep fairly easily during walks but it’s not always convenient to walk him to sleep. Suggestions? I’ve never been more sick than I have these last few months and I attribute it to lack of sleep. Desperate for advice.
Great job in ensuring you are eating healthy! So many of us miss this important aspect of our lifestyle. It sounds to me like you have a more anxious sleep personality on your hands, and I have several recommendations for you to help with this:
- you will need to work at recognizing his sleepy-cues so that you catch the sleep wave before he catches his second wind.
- you did not mention what his naps look like, possibly he is napping too much or not enough. There is often a period of about a few months where naps can be volatile as baby is getting ready to walk and they get ready to drop their evening catnap. During this period before they are ready to drop their evening catnap, they often need to go to bed later, so perhaps he is not quite tired enough. I would experiment with both (3 naps and 2) and see if that helps.
- go technology-free (no computer, phone or TV) for the 90 minutes prior to bedtime. Many babies are sensitive to all the “blue light” and activity generated by these things. Keeping lighting as dim as possible during these 90 minutes can really help relax everyone.
- have your partner try putting him to bed regularly for 1-2 nights and gain additional ways of falling asleep other than nursing.
- managing your own stress through is extremely important. If you are stressed during bedtime, your baby 100% feels this and will have a harder time settling. I know I have said this over and over, but ask for help when feelings of overwhelm set in.
7. How much sleep is enough when it is being interrupted?
Our LO is 13 months and wakes up at least once in the middle of the night to BF. We both wake up for awhile while LO is feeding but eventually fall back asleep. How much sleep is enough when it is being interrupted?
You might be surprised to hear that the idea of consolidated sleep is a rather new concept, and segmented sleep is the historical norm. It was not until the industrial revolution that we began consolidated sleep as work schedules demanded. In fact, in most cultures around the world, families are not bothered to be woken at night, some have an hour or so talk in the middle of the night, and are of course sleeping together. Businesses also shut down for siesta in the afternoons. These more natural sleep patterns have been even argued to be more ideal than the consolidated, and helps to better regulate stress.
Humans vary in their specific needs for sleep, and this also changes when we are going through change, illness, stress, etc. (Just as it does for babies!) and so I cannot give you an answer of how many hours you need specifically, but if you feel rested and are functioning well, you are doing fine. It is as important to also be looking at diet, adequate intake of antioxidants (9-13 servings fruits and veg per day), and stress management through meditation, yoga etc.
8. Is it ok to let your baby cry itself to sleep?
Our pediatrician told us we need to let him self soothe but I feel like I’m not comfortable with this. Our baby sleeps in his crib quite nicely, but often ends up in our bed in the early morning.
Being a parent is tough as there are countless decisions to be made and each of us must look at the pros/cons and research, and make the decision that is best with the knowledge, tools and support around them. I represent the views of Attachment Parenting, as the science behind it made the most sense to me, but what works for me doesn’t always work for everyone.
There are two schools of thought in the medical community around babies and sleep:
Behaviourists prescribe Cry-It-Out (CIO) and modifications of that approach because it works, in that it effectively and quickly changes behaviour. When responded to less and less, a baby ceases to cry. Many parents are told that they are teaching them the skill of self-soothing, however we know that babies and toddlers learn through example. They learn to truly soothe themselves later in toddlerhood from being taught through comfort that sleep is a safe place to go and to remain in.
This is where Developmentalists come in, who are concerned not as much on changing behaviour quickly, but with long term optimal brain development. There is no question that babies and kids thrive when responded to day and night.
If you look at sleep training books, they will lean on the science of how sleep is necessary for brain development (baby), and lessens depression (mom). What they don’t say is that it is normal for babies to wake frequently and even beneficial for brain development as they need REM (light) sleep to help process the days learning, as well as needing to enter light sleep to regulate breathing and organ function. Here is an article from Psychology Today that shares a bit of that science.
9. Should I wait a few more months & try the no-breastfeeding sleep approach again? Should I keep trying now?
I have a question for Brandie Hadfield. I breastfeed my son & he loves to be breastfed to sleep. He is 7 months old now, and I have to go back to work in 5 months. I’m really concerned about his dependency on the breastfeeding to put him to sleep, & I’m afraid whoever will care for him when I go back to work will have a difficult time getting him to sleep. I’ve tried keeping him awake at the breast, then when I think he’s done, I will take him off & pace & jiggle him a bit. He screams & hates it. I don’t want to let him CIO at all, but I’m concerned that he may do it for his other caregivers while I’m working. I will have to work nights so I need him to either a) sleep through the night (which I know isn’t realistic for a 1-year-old) or b) not need to be breastfed to get to sleep & not need it to get back to sleep should he wake up. He refuses my milk other than from my breast, he will take a sippy cup with a bit of juice or water but only a few sips. He wakes up every hour from 8-11, then he’s asleep for 3-5 hours, then he’s awake between 7-8am. We bed-share but I’m also trying to get him to sleep in his crib in our room as he’s gotten more active & kicks us at night. Should I wait a few more months & try the no-breastfeeding sleep approach again? Should I keep trying now?
I am so glad you have the perspective to understand sleeping through the night for a breastfed one year old is not always realistic. You are being very proactive to look at how to get your son to fall asleep different ways for when he is with care-givers. My suggestion for you is to allow someone else practice at getting him to sleep, once a week, then twice, and three nights and so on. If you have a partner at home, that would be a great option to have him or her put your son to sleep. Have some milk pumped for him in a bottle in case he gets hungry. Whoever it is, they need to have a strong attachment to him, which can be accomplished through care-giving at non-nap times until you are sure he has grown to be attached to the person. Now, when that person puts your son to sleep, it is a good idea if you can not be there. The reason is that your son will protest, and the caregiver will know that you are “an option” to settle him, so they may not give it the work truly required. Remember, even you have had tears and struggles getting him down. This is NOT the same as crying-it-out. He is in the arms of someone who loves him very much. He is safe and he is not alone.
10. How do I keep my baby in his crib all night?
(Age 6.5 months) We co-slept with our baby in bed and bassinet until 4.5 months old, then transitioned her to crib in her room. Things were going fine until about 2 weeks ago and now if we try to get her to sleep in her crib she cries hysterically. So she has been sleeping on our bed (with barriers so she wont roll off), then with us when we go to bed. She has also been waking a lot and cluster feeding at night. So needless to say this mama is not getting much rest. My husband is a shift worker so I’m finding it hard to let her cry it out as I’m trying to let him get enough sleep too during the night and day.
The Baby Sleep book has a wonderful picture of all the many seasons of sleep with a baby. It is so much more realistic than our image of baby sleeping through the night in their own crib. In reality, the best place for your baby to sleep is the place where EVERYONE sleeps best, as long as it is done safely. This may be close to you for now or it may be in the crib, . In terms of the cluster feeding, there is a reason for this, although he cannot tell you the reason why. Imagine our babies could talk, they might say, “Mama, there is a flu virus my body is trying to fight, so I’m going to need to nurse more tonight for the antibodies, ok?”. Or, “Mama, I am starting to crawl, and it’s exciting, but a little scary too. Would I be able to sleep with you tonight to keep me feeling safe?”.
My husband works very long hours and shift work as well, so I can tell you from personal experience it can work to still have a family bed. Be sure to install black-out shades (or pin a blanket up), use white noise, and ensure your bed is a safe place for baby. If you and your husband are not on the same page with this however, you can transition your daughter’s room into a place for you to sleep as well. Remember this is just a “season” and you will have your marital bed back before you know it! In the meantime, be diligent about carving out “couple time” and date! Even just a “couch date” when you are both tired is a nice way to ensure you have some time for adult conversation.
BONUS – Our older daughter will be 2 when the little one arrives, and I have no idea how I’m going to function after waking through the night to breastfeed and then getting up at 7 with my 2 year old. It was soooo hard last time – and I had the luxury of sleeping when the baby sleeps. How will I deal with two??
I can assure you that you will get through this crazy time, as long as you are diligent about taking care of yourself. The biggest difference between this day and age and generations before, were that we had an “attachment village”. Sisters, Aunts, Uncles etc. would be coming over to pitch in. Now we need to be more conscious to ASK for help, and/or create our own villages so that we can remain balanced. If you do not have close friends and family around to offer support, you can enlist the help of a bebo mia postpartum doula as a way to get assistance at home so that you can join your toddler for their nap, and not feel like you have a million things to do. Your doula can also play with your toddler and do light housekeeping or run errands while you nap with your newborn. You might be surprised that you adjust and are not as tired as you were the first time around.
Brandie is a wife and mother, Speaker and Coach. With a background in human resources, Brandie also holds several coaching certificates in the areas of nutrition and emotional intelligence, is an attachment parenting leader and currently studying Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.
Brandie’s wellness coaching practice and workshops are held in Toronto, Canada where she offers holistic wellness solutions to sleep-deprived parents, encompassing the four pillars of health: lifestyle, exercise, attitude and nutrition.
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