As a new mom, I remember spending endless early morning hours searching the internet in the hopes of finding the miracle that would help my little girl sleep through the night! Or even sleep a 6 hour stretch! I know I’m not alone! On every new parents mind is – SLEEP! When will my baby sleep through the night? What do I do to help? Countless articles and books have been written around the subject of Infant Sleep.
Last year, when I was awake at 4 am researching the matter on the internet I came across Catherine Wright – sleep consultant extraordinaire and owner of Motherhand, offering supportive sleep coaching. Her approach and philosophy surrounding sleep is integrative and intuitive allowing parents the space to use a variety of sleep solutions and embracing all parenting styles.
We asked Catherine some of our frequently asked sleep questions – here’s what she had to say.
Q: When is a good time to start sleep training?
A: There is a wonderful book called Bedtiming, by Marc Lewis and Isabela Granic, which gives parents an overview of optimum ‘windows’ for making modifications around an infant or child’s sleep, based on where they are at developmentally.
The 5.5 – 7.5 month window is considered a good time for sleep coaching. At this age, babies are naturally starting to consolidate overnight sleep (and so we’re simply finding ways to nudge the process along). Developmentally, they tend to be focused on tactility, and more interested in exploring the edges of a sleep sack, or grasping for comfort buddy, than tracking parents’ whereabouts.
Because separation anxiety and social referencing tends to peak around the 9-month mark, this is not an ideal time to make big changes around a baby’s sleep.
The 5.5-7.5 month window is considered a good time for sleep coaching
Q: When is it too early to sleep train?
A: Of course, there are differing opinions on this.
Internal, biological forces like melatonin production (a sleepy hormone) and the development of the circadian rhythm start kicking-in around the 4-month mark, totally transforming the sleep landscape for a baby. It’s helpful to wait until these processes are underway, before helping a baby learn to fall asleep and resettle more independently (introducing new sleep associations and moving away from bouncing, holding or feeding a baby to sleep).
Some pediatricians and sleep experts feel babies as young as 2-3 months are ready to ‘sleep train’. In my experience, this is not always the case. I prefer to wait until a baby is 5 months before starting sleep coaching – parents can see marked changes very quickly, and changes tend to ‘stick’ at this age, when parents are consistent.
Sleep foundations should be solidly rooted before parents start with any sleep coaching method. Without foundations in place, parents often get frustrated or stressed because they aren’t seeing results, tears are not easing off as they’d hoped, or, if they have initial success, it starts to unravel within a few weeks.
Q: What is sleep shaping?
A: I think of sleep shaping as the gentle steps parents can take, starting on day one, to set their baby up for long term, healthy sleep. Sleep shaping is mindful of a baby’s developmental age and stage, and how the sleep ‘puzzle’ comes together over time. Sleep shaping is essentially laying down the ‘sleep foundations’:
- Ensuring baby’s health, nutrition and emotional wellbeing is in check
- Creating a healthy sleep environment for baby
- Cultivating simple routines around baby’s naps and bedtime
- Ensuring baby is getting enough daytime and nighttime sleep for his age (being mindful of not overstretching wakeful periods during the day)
- Establishing (fairly) non-variable wake-up and bed times
Once foundations are in place and baby is old enough, parents can start to teach their baby how to fall asleep with less intervention by giving them new associations around sleep which support self-settling.
Sleep shaping are the gentle steps parents can take, starting on day one, to set their baby up for long term, healthy sleep
Q: Will my baby ever sleep through the night?
A: Yes! When sleep foundations are in place this often unfolds organically, when baby is ready. There is also a huge range within ‘normal’ when it comes to overnight waking patterns in the first year of life, but most healthy babies are quite capable of this by 6 months (many earlier).
Don’t forget that all babies and toddlers wake frequently at night! The difference between a baby who is ‘sleeping through’ and a baby who is still waking at night is that the baby who is ‘sleeping through’ has learned some sleep skills which allow him to resettle on his own when he wakes and doesn’t have an immediate need.
For parents who want to be more proactive around nudging their baby in this direction, they’d first want to ensure sleep foundations are in place, and then find a sleep coaching method that fits with their parenting style, household set up, and their baby’s temperament and age.
It possible to embark on sleep coaching while respecting that a baby still may need to feed overnight.
Q: How about bedtime routines?
A: Sleep routines are possibly the most important sleep foundation for babies, toddlers and adults.
Wind-down routines offer babies a transition between ‘awake time’ and falling asleep – it is the predictability around routines that sets sleep in motion. Instilling routines early on makes it easier to help a baby learn to settle more independently, down the road.
Here are a few key ingredients for a bedtime wind-down routine:
- Doing relatively the same low-key activities in the same order each evening before your child’s intended bedtime (bath, PJs, cuddles and books, lullaby, bed).
- Turning off all screens in the home and dimming lights
- Darkening baby’s sleep space (as dark as you can get it!)
- Using a bedtime lullaby or ‘sleepy mantra’ around settling baby into sleep
- Ending the routine ends in baby’s sleep space
Parents can start with a short, simple routine and build upon it as their baby gets older. Using continuous ‘white noise’ around wind-down routines and overnight can be incredibly helpful in the first year of baby’s life.
Wind-down routines offer babies a transition between ‘awake time’ and falling asleep
Q: What else can parents do to help with the sleep training process?
A: It’s essential to consider a baby’s health, nutrition and emotional wellbeing before starting on a sleep coaching plan. If a baby’s birth experience was traumatic in any way, if baby has had a history of reflux, colic, or difficulty latching or feeding – chiropractic care is tremendously beneficial and will support the changes parents are making towards improving their child’s sleep.
By optimizing baby’s nervous system (neural communication) and assisting any restrictions in his body, chiropractic treatments often make the sleep learning journey a much smoother process.
chiropractic treatments often make the sleep learning journey a much smoother process
Q: How would you know if your baby or toddler is a good candidate for sleep coaching?
- You have a 6-month baby (or older) who is waking frequently at night and having trouble resettling.
- Bedtime is routinely a drawn out process, or fraught with tears or lots of protesting.
- Your baby is 6 months or older and has very unpredictable routines around sleep.
- You feel your baby or child is chronically not getting enough restorative sleep during the day or at night.
- You’ve made sacrifices to accommodate your baby or child’s sleep but are now so exhausted your day-to-day life is affected and you’re not sure about the best way forward.
- You have multiple children and are struggling to find peaceful routines around helping them to sleep in a way that works for your family.
- Your baby is no longer a newborn but you are all sleeping like he is.
- You simply want support around creating new routines for the way your family sleeps.
If you have any other questions or would like to speak with Catherine, visit her website at www.motherhand.com. You won’t be sorry you did!