For most mothers with infants, sleep becomes the most precious and the scarcest thing in the world. Read my experience here.
Believe me, I have been there.
I have spent sleeplessness nights wondering when my crying baby would go back to sleep. I went online looking for answers, desperately called family and friends, looking for that magic answer. Like most things baby-related, everyone had an opinion but none that worked for me.
Till I hit upon that simple truth. For you and I, sleep is a biological function that we take for granted but for the baby it is a learned skill.
A baby needs to be trained to sleep. A baby needs to discover sleep independence rather than dependence on rocking, cooing, shushing or any of the other methods most sleep-deprived parents try.
You would do well to remember that babies are creatures of habit. They can develop good sleeping habits or bad sleeping habits. I discovered that breaking the bad sleeping habits that my baby had developed was going to be challenging.
My quest for sleep, for both my baby and me, led me to the Gentle Sleep Coaching method. It’s important for me to point out here that I was not one of those mums who were tough enough to try the “cry it out” method. I couldn’t deal with the unpleasant prospect of leaving my baby alone and let him cry himself to sleep. When babies cry, they are essentially communicating their needs. You need to find a consistent and gentle response to these cries to help them feel loved, safe and protected.
I found that the Gentle Sleep method formulated by Kim West, one of the most renowned sleep specialists in the world, was perfect for my baby. The method is based on step-by-step changes in bedtime, napping, and overnight routine so that babies develop sleep independence, go to sleep on their own, and sleep more soundly and longer while feeling confident that mum and dad will be nearby and responsive.
The methodology also encourages setting guidelines for sleep hygiene. This is about creating a familiar space for your baby by establishing a calming bedtime routine. The whole process involved in the routine helps the baby unwind from an alert state to a calm drowsy one. As the baby starts to unwind they activate Oxytocin and the sleep hormone Melatonin that regulate the body arousal system. In other words, their little bodies are ready for sleep.
Adopting simple gentle and natural strategies will help nurture good sleep habits in your baby. Not only will it help improve the length and quality of sleep it will also reduce the amount it takes to settle the baby.
It is also vitally important to consider the appropriate age to sleep coach a baby.
You need to be sure that your baby is developmentally ready to learn or it will all end up in tears for both you and your baby. Most babies aren’t ready for sleep coaching until 6 months, because the ability to self soothe isn’t fully developed until then.
Generally, babies get the sleep they need to be healthy in the first six months. However, some babies can have difficult sleep patterns even in the early months. In this case, its best to do whatever you can to maximise their sleep in the early months even though these habits are not ideal over the long term. You can always alter these habits with a good sleep plan between 6 and 12 months of age. At 4-5 months some babies may be capable of learning some gentle sleep skills but only after a proper assessment by a trained sleep consultant with specific training in this age range.
Sleep is vital to health and development. When your baby gets enough sleep she will grow, learn and stay well. Nobody puts you to sleep at night, so your baby needs to learn to do it too.
Kavitha Nair is a former sleepless mom and now a certified Gentle Sleep Coach for children from 0-6 years. Post the discovery of the Gentle Sleep Program, she discovered sleep again and a new passion – to help other sleepless moms and dads get through one of the toughest challenges of parenthood.