What is the first thing that you think of when you read those words 'sleep training'.
For most parents thinking of sleep training immediately makes you think of leaving your child to cry for them to improve their sleep.
This is why you will never hear me use this term. When it is used crying is the very first thing a parent will think of. This will leave the parent immediately feeling anxious and guilty for wanting their child to sleep a bit more. I see you! I was you! This was the very thing that saw me do months and months of hourly wake ups with my first born.
If we were to take sleep training in the form that most people see it, the majority of parents would have very little success with their childrens sleep. If we all just put our child down in their room to sleep, walked out and left them to figure it out most children would cry and cry and cry and cry. This would result in frustrated parents and a very frustrated child.
When it comes to our childrens sleep there is SO MUCH MORE involved in their sleep picture than just the falling asleep part. In fact there are actually 7 key things that we need to look at. What I refer to as the 7 Steps to Better Sleep. These 7 key things individually need to be addressed in order to see sleep success but together they are the winning formula.
You will here me refer to this as 'sleep shaping', 'working on sleep' or 'sleep molding'. Never, sleep training.
So, what are these 7 things you speak of Erica? Well here you go!
1. Sleep Environment. Creating a consistent place of sleep that is safe, dark, quiet & the right temperature is important. This will become a place your little one will associate with sleep and building in the factors listed below will support their biological sleep needs.
2. Timings. This is the time that you are offering your child their sleep opportunity. This not only developmental but also individual. I advise you understand the guides for different age ranges & then look to your child to guide you to what suits them through their sleepy cues. If a child is offered their sleep at a time that is not suitable for them then they are more likely to struggle falling asleep and will show that frustration through crying. If however they are offered their sleep at a timing sweet spot them may surprise you and lull off to sleep with very little fuss.
3. Importance of Napping. Children thrive on routine. We all do! Our bodies love predictability and that is where napping comes in. When you have the timings right and good napping routine will support your childs overall sleep needs. A rested child from day time sleep will be more likely to sleep well overnight. This blog will help you understand what napping routine is suitable at each age range - click here!
4. Milk/Solids Balance. A hungry child will not sleep, period! Even if they have brilliant sleep skills. So how can you avoid this being a box of doubt when you are working on sleep. Make sure that they are not missing any day time feeds by sleeping through them and have a regular feeding routine. Ensuring that you are doing that will see little ones be less likely to seek feeds overnight from when they are developmentally ready to drop them.
5. Bedtime Routine. Don't underestimate this but don't overthink it either. All you are looking to establish with a bedtime routine is predictable steps that your child understands point to bedtime coming. When you go to their room pull their blinds and curtains to dim down the room. This will give the body the signal to increase melatonin production - this hormone gets us to sleep and helps keep us asleep! Click here for my Ideal Bedtime Routine blog!
6. Self Soothing! From 4 months you can start to work on self soothing. You can not work on it prior to this age range as the biological sleep capability is not there. Only from this point has your childs circadian rhythms formed and developmentally you can start working on this. But how do I do that Erica? Firstly you need to look at the 6 other steps listed here and have those in place and then you can look at self settling/soothing. Taking this step on its own won't see you with sleep success. If you have taken in the other steps and are ready to start self settling well then the next step is really down to you & your child. What is your parenting style? What is your childs temperament? What age are they? That is why I do not have a one size fits all approach to this. I give parents a range of ways of doing this and give them the toolkit to make the decision on which path they take towards self settling as one element of their sleep picture. This YouTube video might help you to dive into this further.
7. Consistency. If you are doing one thing one night and another thing another night nothing will stick and you might as well throw sand at the walls. When it comes to child sleep we need to be consistent with our children. This will involve being repetitive and establishing a routine. Make a plan, become a team together, be consistent and you will get there. It will be individual to your family, your parenting style, your childs developmental stage and their personality!
So, as you can see, if we only took in what 'sleep training' makes us think of then we probably wouldn't have any success with our childrens sleep. We need to look at all the steps - Sleep Environment, Timings, Napping, Milk/Solids, Bedtime Routine, Self Settling & Consistency. We need to work on our childrens overall sleep picture to support them in what they are developmentally capable of.
But, Erica, what about crying? Will my baby cry?
I believe in being very open and honest. In that openness and honesty parents can make decisions that are right for them. They might cry, and that's the honesty. When we make change with our childrens sleep they will probably be frustrated and express their frustration through crying. Why are they frustrated? Initially, they don't know what to do because its different! They are used to a different set of circumstances around their sleep - feeding to sleep or rocking to sleep, holding to sleep or been driven to sleep. Going to sleep without these factors initially will be alien to them and they will be frustrated. But, you have a choice here in how you handle their frustration that fits with your parenting style & their temperament. That point and the other 6 steps that I have detailed above are how you work on sleep with your child.
Remember, if you are reading this and you are rocking, holding, patting or feeding your baby to sleep and its working for your family then you do not have or need to change a thing. You do you and I'm genuinely glad that you are happy ❤️.
If however, you are thinking of working on your childs sleep I really hope that you appreciate my openness and honesty here. I remember that exhausted foggy feeling that comes with broken sleep. I used to dread bedtime with my first child. He used to wake every 45-60 minutes until I start to make the changes using what is now known as the 7 Steps to Better. He is 14 now & still sleeps 10-12 hours each night.
Each and every one of my 1:1s & Sleep Series courses are built around these 7 Steps to Better Sleep so that you are set up for sleep success. Those 7 Steps & the support that I provide to these courses through the Sleep Series Community are its secret sauce and why 96% of parents who use these courses report better sleep!
I really hope that you found this useful in figuring out if working on sleep is the right path for you and your family.