co sleep

I just read another article discussing co-sleeping versus sleep training and after reading the scathing comments afterwards it really feels like parenting is becoming as polarizing as politics.

There are families where co-sleeping is definitely the right decisions  and there are families where sleep training is definitely the right decision and there are even many families who have done both depending on the child or the situation.

There is only one thing that all of these families need to be thinking about with their children and that is one things is sleep associations.

So it doesn’t really matter which style you choose, just make sure that you think about what sleep associations your child is making and just be aware of how they are falling asleep.

What is a sleep association?  A sleep association is something outside of the child that helps the child fall asleep.

Common sleep associations are:

Darkened space

Rocking motion

Snuggling

Sucking

White noise

Lovey

Routine

Music

These are all things that help a child fall asleep no matter whether you are co-sleeping or sleep training.

So as your child gets older, you will want to look at what sleep associations your child relies most heavily on.

  • If your child will only fall asleep while rocking and with white noise (i.e. in the car), and you know that your child won’t be able to rock if they are in a bed or a crib, then know what white noise is a must and that you will need to add in another sleep association once you take away the rocking.
  • If your child will only fall asleep while sucking (bottle or breast) and you know that they will need to wean from the bottle or the breast soon, then you can look at other associations to replace the sucking.  Or just can introduce the pacifier or thumb-sucking to replace the other sucking.

When we talk about sleep associations, someone might interpret that having sleep associations is a negative thing.  But it isn’t.  They are essential.  They are how we learn to sleep.  So this doesn’t mean that you never nurse your child to sleep as an infant because they will always associate nursing with sleeping because that isn’t true.   Infants nurse to sleep.  And as they grow, they learn new associations.  All of these are positive things and all are used to fit the child, the family and the situation.

Speaking of situations, they change.  You may have a child who co-sleeps wonderfully with you in the family bed.  You are happy, your husband is happy and your child is happy.  However, you soon find out that you are pregnant and you realize that you will need to move your child to their own bed.   This is a common scenario and a very stress-inducing one at that.  Your child knows that snuggling with you and either breast-feeding or drinking a bottle in your bed means that it is time to sleep.  So those two sleep associations (sucking and cuddling) mean sleep.

But now you need to move your toddler into their own room.  Set up the room with new sleep associations.  Maybe get a noise machine and black out curtains.  If you have a rocker, use that in the new room.  See if your child attaches to a lovey.  All of these are possible new sleep associations that will replace the cuddling and sucking associations.  If you have the time, only remove one sleep association at a time.  So if you are breast-feeding, you can continue to do that while moving your child into their new room.  It will mean that you will need to come to the room to feed which initially be less sleep (stick to it; you can do it!!) but more sleep in the long run.  Once your little one is settled in the new room, then you will remove breastfeeding as a sleep association.  You will need to keep your little one awake and make sure they go down drowsy but awake.  Then you can be there to shush, sing, pat their tummy, etc., until they fall asleep.  Sounds easier on paper than in real life but again, this isn’t forever.

Your goal: remove sleep associations that are more work with sleep associations that are less work as the child gets older.  This is a process that you may have to do over and over.  Change is inevitable.

With each change, your child may protest and they may be tears.  But don’t fear change. It’s ok if they cry.  You will be there to support them through the change.

 

sleep-cycles

Before I had kids I had heard of sleep cycles but until I was working with them to become better sleepers, I never really understood the concept.  

Now I do.

We have sleep cycles.  The shortest ones are 20 minutes, then 45 minutes and then 2 hour sleep cycles. These are dependent on what kind of sleep you are in, whether it is light and active sleep or deep and still sleep.

Whether you are co-sleeping or independent sleeping, you will need to help your children through these cycles in order for them to become better sleepers. 

After the first three months of life, you can start to watch your child for their sleep pattern.  Typically, an infant will only sleep about 20 minutes in their crib while they are napping.  They are just in a light active sleep for that time and they will need help transitioning into a deeper sleep.  If you know that your child wakes at the end of that cycle (which most children do) then be there at their side at that 20 minute interval and make sure that they don’t wake much and soothe them into their deeper sleep.  

This will take some time to regulate their bodies but is well worth it!  

Even older children can learn to help their bodies back to sleep if they wake during a sleep cycle.

As children become better and more consistent nappers, you’ll find them lengthening their naps to about 45 minutes.  But for young children, this still isn’t enough sleep for their growing brains and bodies.   This is just one full sleep cycle and they need two.  At this point, the children are a little bit older and can often soothe themselves back to sleep.  If you hear movement or sound, don’t react immediately.  Give them enough time to fall back asleep and if they are getting more agitated  then you can help soothe them back to sleep by either rubbing their tummies, rubbing their backs, finding a pacifier, or whatever works best for your child.   But naps should be at least and hour and a half– up to three hours if they are only taking one nap.

Again, this will take time and there might be some difficult days, but consistency works and once your child realizes that nap time isn’t over then they will learn to take longer naps.  

At night is when I often see the 2 hour sleep cycle take hold.  This starts because young infants need to feed that often and even when children no longer need feedings at night, they may wake at those times and will need help learning how to fall back asleep once they wake up.  

The concept of helping a child back to sleep during this nighttime cycle is exactly the same.    If your child wakes every single night at 10:45pm (and you are no longer feeding at night) then you can go into his room at 10:35/ 10:40 and help your child back to sleep before he really wakes up.  You can make shushing noises, rub his belly/ back.  You can talk sweet nothings into his ear.  Just make sure that they are able to get through their wake cycle without completely waking. 


If they do wake completely, do what you can before picking them up.  Try to soothe them back to sleep while they are still in their bed.  If all else fails, you can pick them up and hold them but the process of them learning to fall back asleep will take a little bit longer.  


Once you realize that children aren’t necessarily saying that they are done sleeping when they are just passing from one sleep cycle to the next, you will be better equipped to help them become better sleepers. 

 

siblings

When you have one child, you do just about anything to not wake the baby.

But then you have another child.  And now you have extra work to not wake the baby.

Here’s the thing:

Children learn how to sleep.  


So a child who is born in a really hot humid climate, will know how to sleep in a hot humid climate. (My children cannot sleep if it is over 75º however…)

A child who is born into a noisy household, will know how to sleep though all the noise.

A child who is born with a barking dog, will know how to sleep even when the dog is barking all of the time.

A child who is born with a twin will be able to sleep though the other child’s wailing.

It is a common frustration for mothers with toddlers and babies to feel like they need to indulge the toddler’s every whim to keep them from waking the baby, but they aren’t doing anyone a favor.  The new baby will learn how to sleep with the other child crying/ screaming.  And when I say “learn” I am implying that there will be times that the baby does wake due to the noise.  These times will be super frustrating, but just like anything and everything with having children, “this too shall pass.”

When you are consistent with your older children, and don’t give in to their screaming and fussing, their behavior will improve.  

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