If you are on a quest to get your child to sleep through the night, there’s no doubt you’ve been Googling and searching the internet for answers.
To ensure you and I are on the same page in this conversation, let’s talk about what “sleeping through the night really means.”
In my world, sleeping through the night means 11 – 12 hours overnight without feeding. Your child’s age and feeding source and habits will influence when that can occur. This can vary from 5 months to 10 months depending on these factors.
You can read more about when it is appropriate for your child to be able to read this milestone in my Mid-Peninsula Moms blog post “When Can My Baby Sleep Through The Night.”
If you’re like many of the parents I’ve worked with, you’ve probably tried one of the following to get longer stretches of sleep at night:
- Topping up your child’s calories during the day
- Adding cereal into the mix near bedtime
- Playing white noise
- Putting your shirt in her crib with her
- Changing up her bedtime routine
- Giving a bath before bed
- Bringing her into bed with you
But…. *sigh* it’s unlikely any of that helped your baby sleep through the night.
Without the following important skill, it’s unlikely your child will be able to sleep through the night.
*****Drum roll please****
Here’s the answer:
Your child needs “self soothing skills” to be able to sleep through the night.
This means that your child needs to be able to transition herself from calm but awake, into sleep.
And when I say calm but awake, I don’t mean drowsy. If she’s drowsy, then something has helped her to relax. She needs self-soothing skills to be able to relax so she can drift off to sleep. If she can learn to do this at bedtime, when the drive to sleep is the greatest, then she will be able to settle back into sleep by herself in the middle of the night when she surfaces from sleep.
All humans surface from sleep in the night. You may roll over, check the clock, nudge your husband in the ribs to stop him from snoring, and then relax back down into sleep. Your baby or toddler needs to have the self-soothing skills to do the same thing as you.
Common self-soothing skills include:
- Sleeping in a favorite position. Many kids prefer to sleep on their stomachs. We always put kids down on their backs, and when they can roll, they are safe to sleep on their stomachs.
- Rubbing a cheek or back of the head into the crib mattress
- Sucking a thumb or finger
- Moaning or groaning
- Blowing raspberries
- Rubbing a piece of material between thumb and fingers or on her face. Tactile soothing is extremely common
The challenge with self-soothing skills is that they often won’t develop until you take away the sleep crutch she currently uses to help her fall asleep.
Scary thought, right?
A sleep crutch is something external that your child uses to help her relax and can be broken down into three categories:
- Sucking – Being fed to sleep or to drowsy, or using a pacifier
- Motion – Being rocked, or the motion of a car or stroller
- Touch – Being held, or sleeping beside or on someone
The next question you might have is how to take away that sleep crutch so that self-soothing skills can develop. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for this and ultimately what we’re talking about is doing some “sleep training.”
Sleep training is removing the sleep crutch so that your child can develop some self soothing skills. However, there is MUCH more to sleep training, which includes setting your child up for success with age appropriate expectations, timing, and being able to be consistent about the message you are delivering.
And it does not mean closing the door and not going back in. Your child deserves to be acknowledged and heard.
I LOVE talking to parents about baby sleep. I started a free Facebook Group called Ask the Sleep Expert with Dr. Sarah Mitchell. In this group, I answer general questions about baby and toddler sleep. I like to think of this group as my “Starbucks group.” If I can answer your sleep question in the time it takes to wait for our coffee at Starbucks, then I can answer it on Facebook. Come join me!