Before we have children, we dream about what it will be like. Many of us are starry-eyed and, yes, a little naive, about what it means to be a great mom or dad. And we often invent a long list of "good parenting ideas" we think we must stick to.
Before the birth of our first child, we've already decided that our kids won’t watch TV, eat sugar or ever step foot in a McDonalds.
I remember declaring to friends and family that I would never let my kids play video games. (I bet you can guess how that turned out.)
And then we discover that the reality of parenting doesn't match the dream.
Let me just say that most of the ideas on your list are genuinely good ones. And if you're willing to be flexible you can find ways to incorporate them into everyday life. For example, you'll find it easier to keep your child's eating habits free of excess sugar as opposed to being completely sugar-free.
But be careful of trying to stick to ideas which don't work and cause more harm than good.
I got a letter the other day that really showed me how often we hang on to a good parenting idea even when it hurts our family.
This mother started her letter by telling me she was against any sort of cry-it-out method for sleep training. She had decided it was wrong. And she thought it created unnecessary suffering for her child.
But she went on to write three desperate paragraphs about how her two-year-old daughter would not go to sleep at bedtime and woke up about five times a night, needing to be rocked back to sleep.
She described being so tired and frustrated that she was living each day, angry and impatient, snapping at everyone around her, even her daughter.
She admitted to yelling and swearing, and on one occasion, felt herself getting a bit rough with her child. She hadn’t slept in her own bed for twenty-two months, and (no surprise) her marriage was suffering.
My heart broke for this woman. Not because I felt sorry for her, but because she was so committed to this notion that her child “crying it out” was a bad idea. Even though that was the only way to fix the situation.
By hanging on so tightly to this idea she had about what a good parent should do, she was actually hurting herself and her family.
And she couldn’t see that by refusing to engage in sleep training for her child, her exhaustion and frustration were hurting the people she loved the most. All she could see was that she wasn't parenting "the correct way".
Sometimes, being a parent means doing the hard thing. It means doing something that upsets you because you think it will distress your child.
But let's look at it differently.
Would you let your child eat only potato chips and jelly beans because she gets upset when you ask her to eat vegetables? Would you let her run out into traffic because you don't want to limit her freedom? Of course not.
Your job is to teach her to eat a balanced diet, avoid oncoming cars, and to get a good night's sleep.
I urge you to rethink your mental list of "good parenting ideas". Think about creative ways you can incorporate them into your family’s daily routine so that they actually work with your life, not against it. And allow yourself to acknowledge and delete those ideas which do more harm than good.
Parenting is so much harder than any of us imagined. Let's give ourselves permission to ditch the good ideas that turn into rigid standards we set for ourselves and our children, and stick with the ones that genuinely add to the overall health and well-being of our families.
“Why Won’t My Baby Sleep Through The Night?”
When he was an infant, I often asked my firstborn this question. I asked it in a sweet voice. I asked it in a pleading voice. I asked it in an exhausted voice. But no matter how many times I asked, he never gave me the answer. I did not understand why my baby was keeping me up at night.
I can remember the night— and some of you will know exactly what I’m talking about— when I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. My son just would not stay asleep and I had hit rock bottom. I was exhausted from waking up multiple times every night and having to soothe him back to sleep. My husband found me at 3:00 am, sobbing away in our living room.
When our babies don’t sleep well, we tend to grasp at every possibility. We think it might be teething or gas. We worry that she’s too small and she needs to eat in the night, or he’s too big and he needs to eat more or he won’t feel full. The list of reasons is endless.
Are any of these explanations the real truth? Sometimes. But barring those times when your child has a burning fever or a new tooth coming in, the real reason most babies won’t fall asleep easily or stay asleep is that they just haven’t learned how.
The #1 Reason Why Babies Don’t Sleep Well
We all have habits that help us fall asleep each night. We have bedtime routines that we follow without really thinking about it. And we rely on these routines because we've learned that they help us transition from the busyness of our day to a restful sleep.
Most of us have a favorite position on the bed that we turn to when we feel sleep about to come. Some of us need a glass of water beside the bed, some need white noise or music, while others can’t sleep without an open window. Whatever the differences might be, these are sleep strategies, and without them, we’d have trouble drifting off.
The same goes for babies. But there’s one major difference.
Many parents who haven’t developed a sleep strategy for their babies will complain that their child can only fall asleep with the bottle, or while breastfeeding, or while being rocked or patted.
The trouble with offering just these types of routines is that it teaches a baby to associate their parent with the act of falling asleep. So when they awaken in the middle of the night, they can’t doze off again unless they are rocked or patted or given a bottle. They haven’t learned how to connect the act of sleeping with any other routine. And that’s why so many babies, and parents, are up at 3 am, exhausted, and crying.
Night waking is common in babies. But when they wake up and a parent isn't there, they tend to come fully awake and cry. They don't know what to do. Unlike older children who have learned to snuggle a toy or change positions to fall back to sleep, babies are waiting for that interaction with mom or dad.
And they've learned that crying not only allows them to express frustration, but it also makes mom or dad magically appear at the side of the crib.
And then they get rocked or fed and the familiar routine soothes them back to sleep.
But it isn’t long before both parents and babies discover that this routine doesn’t always work. It begins to wear off. Baby doesn’t always fall back asleep. Or she wakes up more often and can’t go back to sleep on her own. So she fusses more. And mom and dad sleep less and less.
And everyone starts getting cranky.
Creating Better Sleep Strategies
There are lots of sleep strategies I can help you teach your child so that her bedtime routines will allow her to fall asleep, even from a very young age. And when she wakes up in the middle of the night she'll be able to go back to sleep all on her own.
Contrary to popular belief, babies are quite capable of sleeping through the night. And helping her learn those skills while she's young will make future bedtimes , and nighttimes, less stressful.
A well-rested child is a healthier, happier child. And a well-rested parent is a happier and healthier adult.
If you're ready to discover my tried-and-true sleep strategies for you and your baby, please let me know. I'd love to help you get a good nights sleep. Book a complimentary call with me today!
“Will putting cereal in my baby’s bottle help her sleep better?”
I’m frequently asked this question. Someone, maybe your mother or grandmother told you, “Oh, put cereal in the breast milk or the formula, and this baby will sleep all night.”
We’ve all experienced trying to fall asleep on an empty stomach. So the idea of a little extra food in baby’s formula before bedtime or after a midnight wake-up seems sensible.
The Cereal Myth
Unfortunately, this is one of those old wives’ tales that gets handed down through generations. And you know what? You’re right to stop and ask “Will putting cereal in my baby’s bottle help her sleep better?”
Something to consider is that your baby might not be old enough to eat cereal. The rule of thumb about solids is that it’s safe to start introducing them into your baby’s diet anytime between the fifth and sixth month, but not before.
And when it comes to introducing your baby to solid foods, it’s good to take it slow and be selective about which types of food you choose. There's some evidence to suggest that starting solids too early can lead to future allergies.
I know how tempting it is to want to trust the advice of family and friends when you’ve got a three or four-month-old baby who is up every hour throughout the night.
And when you hear her crying at night and you know she isn’t sick, it’s natural to worry that she’s hungry. So the idea of feeding her again, and adding some cereal to ease those hunger pangs and help her sleep better, seems like a good one.
But the only time hunger is actually the issue is when you know you’ve got a baby who’s been struggling to gain weight or has any other type of health issue. Then, yes, hunger might be causing your baby to keep waking up during the night.
However, for healthy babies who are gaining weight well, food is not the problem.
So if hunger isn’t the source of her inability to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night, what is?
The Way Babies Learn to Sleep
Did you know that the way babies learn to go to sleep can affect how well they sleep?
Most of the time babies are rocked to sleep. Or they’re bounced to sleep. And many are fed to sleep.
But what begins to happen is that they associate the rocking, the bouncing, and the feeding with the actual act of falling asleep.
Now, for most babies, an hour and a half or two hours into the night they’re going to have a wake-up. That’s normal and natural. There’s no way around that.
Actually, most of us have wake-ups through the night. And over time we learned that if we roll over and relax, we’ll go back to sleep. (And if we don’t, we always have reruns on Netflix to bore us back to sleep.)
However, when babies have a wake-up, they actually can’t go back to sleep without their bedtime routine. Why? Because they’ve learned to associate being fed, bounced, or rocked with the act of falling asleep.
They haven’t learned another way to go to sleep.
Which brings me back to the idea of feeding a baby at bedtime.
This is hands down the number one reason why your baby wakes up during the night and is unable to fall back asleep.
She has learned to associate this nighttime feeding with both bedtime and sleeping. So when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she cries because she can’t fall back to sleep without her routine.
It’s confusing for her and exhausting for you.
Change Baby’s Bedtime Routine
So your baby has learned the bedtime feeding routine. It’s safe. It’s familiar. And for a little while it was working great for both of you.
But as she gets older your feeding strategy isn’t working as well. And you find yourself in the drugstore checking out serums that promise to make tired eyes look “well-rested and youthful” again.
What’s happening is that as baby grows older, the bedtime feeding routine becomes less and less effective because her body doesn’t respond the same way to the extra food. She doesn’t get drowsy right away and in some cases, doesn’t fall asleep. But the routine has become a familiar habit. And she expects it even when it isn’t working.
And that’s the real problem.
The good news is that there are other ways you can teach your baby to learn how to sleep without feeding. Here are just two examples:
1. Once or twice a week start placing her in her crib when she is tired but not actually asleep. This is one way to let her get used to falling asleep on her own without the feeding process.
2. As your baby gets older, help her stay awake both during and after feedings so that she stops associating melatime with bedtime.
There are plenty of additional ways to change up bedtime strategy so that your baby learns how to fall asleep without food, and also learns how to fall back asleep after a wake-up in the middle of the night.
And you won’t need to be up at midnight or 2am or 3:30am adding more cereal to formula or breast milk. Why? Because you’ll be too busy sleeping.
Are you curious about how to create a new bedtime routine for your baby that doesn’t involve feeding? I’d love to chat with you about how we can start teaching your baby to sleep comfortably through the night.
Give me a call at (209) 813-0609 or email@example.com and let’s work on a more personalized bedtime routine for you and your little one.
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!