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Sleep Parenting

By Doula Jen

baby sleepSometimes we end up working with a family for quite a while—beyond newborn, if you will. There are many different reasons for this, the specifics of multiples and parents with demanding jobs being the most common.

Somewhere between months 6 and 12, many parents begin to get a little antsy about Baby’s nightly habitual behavior. Maybe they begin to wonder if there are a few too many feedings, an hour or two of missed sleep that not only frustrates the entire family but no longer seems age appropriate.

Babies do have middle-of-the-night needs. We all know this. It’s why new parents are so tired! In the beginning it’s legitimately about feeding cues. Months 4,5, and 6 serve as a kind of practice zone or bridge to uninterrupted sleep. Between months 6 and 12 babies should be learning to rest peacefully and joyfully at night. Does that mean strict sleeping through the night every night, no matter what, without fail? Of course not. Most of the time? That’s the healthy, happy goal.

As your little one starts to approach one, your gut starts to tell you that some of the wake-ups need to phase out. Those instincts are spot on. Baby is ready for long stretches of uninterrupted sleep…and so are you!

Our education director, Lisa, favors the term “sleep parenting” over “sleep training.” You are not training your child to sleep via reward and/or punishment. You are mindfully helping them move toward the exact age-appropriate behavior that their little organism biologically craves. That’s parenting.  It’s how mothers and fathers approach all growth spurts, changes, rough spots, and triumphs.

But when it comes to sleep, it’s easy to get a little crazy…for many reasons. You need sleep. They need sleep. You desire the change; you fear the change. It’s a sign that they’re growing up—that’s hard. And maybe it’s the first time EVER (in your sweet little parent-child relationship) that you are forced to create boundaries.

Here’s the thing. As with all things parenting—sleep transitions and modifications are not black and white. As you move away from a night behavior that’s no longer serving your child, there may be tears—yours, hers. But that doesn’t mean you’re in for a cold-turkey/earplugs/high-stress situation.

Maybe it’s the elimination of one feeding. Maybe it’s the transition from the co-sleeper basinette to the crib, or the crib to the toddler bed. Whatever the case, consistency with compassion is the best bet, along with a constant adherrance to the idea that nighttime is for rest.

Here’s an example:

Recently, I was with a family who is trying to eliminate one of the night bottles for their 9 month old. He wasn’t drinking much, but was in the habit of having two nighttime feedings. Every night. Like clockwork. Mom and Dad started realizing that their boy was not only leaving half a bottle at this feeding but was pretty darn cranky about being up in the first place! It seemed like a good time to give weaning off that 3AM feeding a try. So, when he woke up, they let him make a little noise—with the understanding that if he sounded truly upset about something or if the episode lasted for more than an hour, they would then intervene.

Also, we went in twice over the 45 minutes, gave him a little rub on the back and returned the pacifier that he’d dropped, as if to say hey buddy, you’re not alone, this is hard and we get it…but you should probably stay in your bed and rest. After that final check-in he settled back down and slept through the rest of the night, waking with smiles and a hunger for his full bottle.

It’s funny. In the beginning we all sort of think that the baby will lead the way—wean, sleep through the night, demonstrate that they are ready to use the potty…that somehow we will sit back and enjoy observing the milestones and the maturity. As some of you are finding out right now…it doesn’t always play out quite like that! More often than not, your baby will “tell” you that they’re ready to move on but that they don’t quite know how to get to the other side. You, wonderful parents, will be there as a guide. You will follow your instincts and you will—I promise—eventually sleep through the night (most of the time). It is possible to encourage healthy, age-appropriate change with kindness and tenderness. Listen to your heart, watch your baby’s cues, and go with the flow.

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