As the parent of a new baby, there are SO many questions we ask ourselves, especially about sleep (or, the lack thereof!).
Babies do not come with instruction manuals, and even after spending nine months doing endless research on what to expect when baby arrives, there’s an unavoidable feeling of unpreparedness as soon as we come home from the hospital.
Every baby is different, so nothing can prepare you for your child in particular.
And since this is just about the most significant responsibility that a human being can have, to raise another human being, we feel a tremendous responsibility to get it right.
Unfortunately, there are no dress rehearsals for parenthood. Your first run-through is the final performance, which only increases our anxiety and resolve to figure out anything that might be wrong with our babies.
And since babies basically eat, poop, cry and sleep, we seem to be naturally very focused on those four things.
What to feed baby is often a debatable topic on its own, and we usually find ourselves with a sudden interest in poop that we never knew we had!
This leaves us with sleeping and crying, and as a sleep consultant for infants and children, rest assured, I’ve done a ton of research on both.
The biggest question that parents have when they start sleep training is, “Will my baby cry?”
Babies cry all the time. In fact, if a baby didn’t cry, it would be cause for concern.
What parents are really asking me is, “Will my baby cry, and will I be able to provide comfort when they do?”
Why is this the biggest concern with new parents?
Well, nobody likes to hear their baby cry, but thanks to Google parents can access a HUGE amount of misinformation that states that if we don't respond immediately to our baby's cries, then we're doing them harm.
My friends, Anna & Layla at mybabycare.org/ just touched on this in their new blog, and it's a great read! mybabycare.org/4-mistakes-parents-make-in-their-first-year-im-sure-we-all-do-1/
Did you know this wasn't an issue until Dr. William Sears came out with his Attachment Parenting theory in 1993? Before this, parents were pretty comfortable with the fact that baby might cry for awhile if they woke in the night. Although this may be unpleasant, it wasn't a concern.
When Dr. Sears' book was published, an entire generation of new parents began to believe that any crying is causing all kinds of harm. Sears cited studies to back up his claim, but those studies looked at babies who were suffering from colic and a condition known as persistent crying, both of which are a far cry from allowing a child a few minutes of crying time.
And so this highly charged argument has gone on for nearly 25 years now with people that support attachment parenting accusing sleep training advocates of neglecting their babies for their own benefit.
I'm surprised that the pediatric and scientific community hasn’t done more to prove or disprove this assertion, given the magnitude of the consequences. After all, if we’re causing our babies brain damage by allowing them to cry, even for a short period, wouldn’t almost every parent in the world alter their approach to prevent it?
One reason Dr. Sears’ claims didn’t provoke an immediate and widespread investigation was that they were hugely misleading. The Yale researchers who conducted one of the studies his research pulled from responded to his use of their work by saying, “Our paper is not referring to routine, brief stressful experiences, but to abuse and neglect. It is a mis-citation of our work to support a non-scientifically justified idea.”
Another went so far as to actually note in the study’s own conclusion that, “Our findings provide evidence that the quality of maternal behavior appears to be unrelated to this effect.” So the mother’s response or lack of it to the condition of persistent crying was inconsequential.
So that’s the argument against the original suggestion that started this whole movement, but its supporters will invariably ask, “Where’s your evidence to the contrary? How do you know it’s not harmful?”
Well, back in 2012, Dr. Anna Price, a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Children's Hospital's Centre for Community Child Health in Melbourne, Australia, conducted an extensive study that followed a group of two hundred and twenty-six children. The study measured mental health, sleep, stress regulation, child-parent relationship, maternal health and parenting styles.
Five years later, she followed up with the families to see the if the one-third of the children whose parents had employed some method of sleep training had experienced any of the terrifying side effects that Dr. Sears had warned us about in his book.
The result, they had not. In fact, to quote the study, “There was no evidence of differences between intervention and control families for any outcome. Behavioral sleep techniques have no marked long-lasting effects.”
But critics continue to try to shoot holes in the evidence. “The sample size was too small,” is a common complaint, no matter what the size of the study might be. “We need further study,” is another, assuming that further study supports their position, which, as of yet, it hasn’t.
So in March of last year, when Pediatrics published another peer-reviewed study that showed sleep training to be both effective and safe, it didn’t change the mind of Dr. Sears or his followers.
But for those new parents who have been bombarded with misinformation and hearsay regarding the safety and efficacy of sleep training, it’s yet another assurance that you can feel confident in the fact that getting your child to sleep through the night is important, safe, and beneficial to your entire family.
Because there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, and that’s the fact that a good night’s sleep is beneficial for mother and baby alike.
So the answer is yes, sleep training is safe. Sleep itself is glorious, rejuvenating, and beneficial to you, your baby, and your entire family. Focusing on your child’s sleep habits is something you can feel good about, and a commitment that will pay off exponentially.
In short, your baby and yourself can both sleep soundly, knowing you’ve made the right choice.
Is your baby waking many times each night? Are you curious about sleep training? Contact me today, and we'll talk about exactly how to teach your baby to be a fantastic sleeper with gentle sleep solutions that work.
Have questions about sleep training? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below!
As a professional sleep consultant, I hear the term “regression” used in regards to just about every imaginable circumstance. Essentially, if baby doesn’t sleep well for a couple of nights, parents start dropping the ‘R’ word. Some people subscribe to the idea that there’s an eight month regression, a 9 month regression, a 1 year regression, as well as teething regressions, growth spurt regressions, and so on. Others see these as simple hiccups caused by extenuating circumstances.
But the four-month regression, everybody agrees on, and for good reason. It’s the real deal, and it’s permanent.
So in order to understand what’s happening to your baby during this stage, first you need to know a few things about sleep in general. So here’s the science-y part, told in plain English.
Many of us just think of sleep as an on-or-off situation. You’re either asleep or you’re not. But sleep actually has a number of different stages, and they make up the “sleep cycle,” which we go through several times a night.
Stage 1 is that initial stage we’re all familiar with where you can just feel yourself drifting off, but don’t really feel like you’ve fallen asleep. Anyone who has ever seen their partner nodding off in front of the TV, told them to go to bed, and gotten the canned response of, “I wasn’t sleeping!” knows exactly what this looks like.
Stage 2, which is considered the first “true sleep” stage. This is where people tend to realize, once woken up, that they actually were sleeping. For anyone taking a “power nap,” this is as deep as you want to go, or else you’re going to wake up groggy.
Stage 3 is deep and regenerative. Also known as “slow wave” sleep, this is where the body starts repairing and rejuvenating the immune system, muscles tissue, energy stores, and sparks growth and development.
Stage 4 is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is where the brain starts to kick in and consolidates information and memories from the day before. It’s also the stage where we do most of our dreaming.
Once we’ve gone through all of the stages, we either wake up or come close to waking up, and then start over again until the alarm goes off.
So what does this have to do with the dreaded regression we were talking about originally?
Well, newborn babies only have 2 stages of sleep; stage 3 and REM, and they spend about half their sleep in each stage. But at around the third or fourth month, there is a reorganization of sleep, as they embrace the 4-stages of sleep that they’ll continue to follow for the rest of their lives.
When this change takes place, baby moves from 50% REM sleep to 25% in order to make room for those first two stages. So although REM sleep is light, it’s not as light as these 2 new stages that they’re getting used to, and with more time spent in lighter sleep, there’s more of a chance that baby’s going to wake up.
That’s not to say that we want to prevent or avoid baby waking up. Waking up is absolutely natural, and we continue to wake up three, four, five times a night into adulthood and even more in old age.
As adults, however, we’re able to identify certain comforting truths that baby might not be privy to. When we wake in the night, we’re able to recognize that, “Hey, I’m here in my bed, it’s still night time, my alarm isn’t going to go off for another three hours, and I’m reasonably certain that there are no monsters lurking under my bed. I can go back to sleep”
And we do. Usually so quickly that, the next morning, we don’t even remember the brief encounter with consciousness.
A four month old baby, of course, lacks these critical thinking skills. To a four month old baby who fell asleep at her mother’s breast, the reasoning could go much more to the tune of, “OK, last thing I remember, there was a familiar, beloved face, I was having dinner, and someone was singing me a soothing song about the Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Now I’m alone in this dark room, there’s no food, and there’s probably at least three, possibly four, scary monsters in the immediate vicinity.”
That’s probably an exaggeration, but who knows what goes on in the mind of a four month-old baby?
Anyways, now that baby’s suddenly realized that Momma’s not around, and they’re not entirely sure where they’ve gone, the natural response is to do a little freaking out. That stimulates the fight-or-flight response and, next thing you know, baby’s not going back to sleep without a significant amount of reassurance that everything is OK.
The other major contributor to this 4 month fiasco, I find, is that up until this point, parents have either been putting their baby to sleep with a pacifier, or by rocking them, or by breastfeeding them, or some similar technique where baby is helped along on the road to falling asleep.
Now that baby’s spending more time in light sleep, and therefore has a higher probability of waking up, this suddenly becomes a much bigger issue. These sleep props or sleep associations can be very sneaky indeed, because although they may be helpful in getting your little one to that initial nodding off stage, the lack of them when they wake up means that baby’s not able to get back to sleep again without some outside help. Cue the fight-or-flight, the crying, and the adrenaline. When this starts happening every half an hour, parents can find themselves in a nightmarish situation.
So, the good news for anyone experiencing the dreaded Four Month Sleep Regression is that it’s not, in fact, a regression at all. A regression is defined as “reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level,” and that’s actually the opposite of what your baby is experiencing. This would be much more aptly titled the “Four Month Sleep Progression”
So, onto the big question. What can you do to help your little one adjust?
First off, get all of that light out of baby’s room. I’m not kidding around here. You might think that baby’s room is dark enough, or that baby might not like the dark, and that it’s comforting to have a little bit of light coming through the windows or seeping in from the hallway.
Baby’s room should be dark. I mean coal mine on a moonless night kind of dark. Tape garbage bags over the windows if you have to, or cover them with tinfoil. (Just be prepared to explain it to the police when the neighbors accuse you of running a grow-op.)
Newborns and infants are not afraid of the dark. They are, however, responsive to light. Light tells their brains that it’s time for activity and alertness, and the brain secretes hormones accordingly, so we want to keep that nursery absolutely pitch black during naps and bedtime.
The other nemesis of daytime sleep, (and nighttime for that matter, although not nearly as often) is noise. Whether its UPS ringing the doorbell, the dog warning you that the squirrels are back and for sure going to attack the house this time, or something falling on the floor three rooms away. With baby spending more time in lighter sleep, noises will startle them easily and wake them up, so a white noise machine is a great addition to your nursery.
“Wait, isn’t that a prop,” you’re asking. Well, in a way, it is, but it doesn’t require any winding, resetting, reinserting, or parental presence. It’s just there and it can be on as long as baby’s sleeping, so it’s not a prop we need to avoid.
Bedtime routines are also an essential component to getting your baby sleeping well. Try to keep the routine to about 4 or 5 steps, and don’t end it with a feed. Otherwise, you risk baby nodding off at the breast or the bottle, and that will create the dreaded “association” that we talked about earlier.
So try to keep the feed near the beginning of the routine and plan the songs, stories, and getting into PJs towards the end. The whole process should be about 20 - 30 minutes long, and baby should go into their crib while they’re still awake.
If you’re noticing baby getting fussy before bedtime, you’ve probably waited too long. Four month old babies should really only be going about two hours between snoozes, and bedtime should be between 7 and 8 at night.
Now, there are going to be regressions, actual regressions, later on in your little one’s youth. Traveling, illness, cutting teeth, all of these things can cause your little one to have a few bad nights in a row. But when it comes to the four month “progression,” I’m happy to report that this is a one-time thing. Once you’re through this, your baby will have officially moved into the sleep cycle that they’ll essentially be following for the rest of their life. Four glorious stages repeated multiple times a night.
And by taking this opportunity to teach them the skills they need to string those sleep cycles together, independently, prop-free, without any need for nursing, rocking, or pacifiers, you’ll have given them a gift that they’ll enjoy for the rest of their young lives.
Of course, some kids are going to take to this process like a fish to water, and some are going to be a little more resistant. If yours falls into the former category, count yourself as lucky, take delight in your success, and go ahead and gloat about it on Facebook.
For those of you in the latter camp, I’m happy to help in any way I can. Just email me email@example.com or give me a call (209) 813-0609 and we can work on a more personalized program for your little one.
The most common thing I hear after working with clients is, “I can’t believe I waited so long to get some help!” So if you’re considering hiring a consultant, now is absolutely the time. I offer a free 15-minute evaluation so I can get to know the specifics about your little one’s situation, so book a call now and we can move forward as soon as you’re ready to get your little one sleeping through the night!
Here’s to a well rested family!
Daytime sleep is essential for the health and well-being of your baby. With so many of us working, this often leaves our babies napping at daycare. I hear over and over from clients that their babies don’t sleep well at daycare.
It can be super noisy and cause children to have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
Here are a few tips for you about daycare sleep:
Fortunately, there are things we can do to help with this since daytime sleep is essential for keeping your baby happy and alert during the day.
Check out these helpful tips.
Tip Number 1:
Check the daycare center attentively. Don’t be afraid to ask if they know exactly why your baby isn’t sleeping well. Ask them to show you their nap area. Is the area quiet for taking a nap? Check out if babies are crying around that area could be disturbing the sleep of others? Are they are providing all the comforts to your baby and making it as close to home as possible? Interviewing will help you to find out that if the place is conducive for your baby’s sleep.
Tip Number 2:
Find out how they get your baby fall asleep. It is the most important thing ever. Some daycare centers are good at this and they will ask you and do things exactly as you tell them. Other places, insist on rocking babies to sleep which inhibits a baby from having a long, restful nap. This only makes it easier on them and more difficult on your baby. Remember, you are the boss here. You’re paying the bill.
If are very clear and say, "Listen, I put my baby down, awake, and he falls asleep on his own. All he needs is a quiet environment and a crib of his own and he'll do great," why wouldn't they want that? That makes their job easier!
But some daycare centers have very strict policies. They will give comfort to your baby but in their very own way.
Tip Number 3:
This tip is basically for the few babies who don’t sleep well in any condition other than home. Many of us as adults can relate to this. Most of us sleep well in our own bed, not so well in other places and this make sense to us.
In this instance, if you’ve give guidelines and your baby still isn’t sleeping well at daycare then it’s okay to give him an earlier bedtime. Otherwise, he’ll be grumpy all evening and that’s no fun for anyone.
Tip Number 4:
Ask them to give you a complete nap report of your baby on a daily basis. This will help you to understand when your baby wants to sleep and if his sleep tank is low then you can make him fall asleep during your ride to home.
If your baby is not going to daycare everyday then it’s fine. He’s home with you on some days and sleeps well so he’ll have a chance to make up for days when he doesn’t sleep so well at daycare. What we want is to get your baby’s clock in line with a consistent bedtime.
If your child struggles with naps no matter where they try to sleep, it might be a good idea to look into teaching your child the sleep skills that he or she needs to take long, restful naps.
Children don’t give up their nap until about the age of 3, so that’s a long time to struggle with daytime sleep.
Contact me today to set up your FREE 15-minute consultation where we can discuss your child’s sleep.
I’d love to help however I can.
Jo Anna Inks
I help tired, frustrated parents get their babies sleeping through the night and napping well so everyone in the family can get the rest they so desperately need!