What are your sleep goals? Do you long for your situation to be vastly different from the current one? Is your child’s sleep becoming unsustainable? I have an approach to sleep that may help – one step at a time. Here’s what I mean.
Firstly – it’s only a problem if it’s a problem for you
First of all, I should start with saying that your child’s sleep situation is only a problem if it’s a problem for YOU. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. So what if your friend’s baby sleeps alone in the cot? Or it seems like all the babies in your online support group sleep. It doesn’t matter what the health professionals around you think, or what the books say. Do not be fooled. First of all, many people lie about their child’s sleep. Second of all, health professionals often have very little training in sleep. And thirdly, there are hundreds of books out there – none were written about your baby I assure you. Please don’t feel under pressure to get your child’s sleep working differently if, deep down, it doesn’t actually bother you. Stay calm, and read on. Ok, end of lecture….
So often, I am contacted by desperate parents who long to be able to put their child down in their cot, crib or bed, kiss them goodnight, and walk out of the room, while their child peacefully falls asleep, without crying. There’s nothing actually wrong with that goal, but it may be a million miles away from where you are right now. It’s kind of a utopian goal! That’s not to say you should give up on it. I promise it will happen, but maybe you need to break it down.
I find a lot of parents get stuck in a spiral when they think of these utopian sleep goals.
The problem is that when a goal is not realistic, or achievable, it tends to make us feel worse. When we feel worse, we start feeling more hopeless. When we lose hope, we give up on changing anything. When we change nothing, nothing changes. And so we start over again.
What about reframing goals at beginnings, rather than endpoints?
Sleep – one step at a time
If you break your utopian goal into manageable chunks, you’ll find it much less overwhelming. Here’s what I mean. Let’s use an example of a baby who will only fall asleep while being rocked in your arms. This happens for every nap, and several times per night. Nothing else works.
Start with reframing the aspect that everyone else defines as the problem, as your beginning! You will hear rocking to sleep being referred to as a bad habit, a crutch, or a sleep association. I call it normal parenting. I also want to say to you; ‘Well done! You’ve found a fool-proof, simple way of effectively helping your baby to go to sleep – good job!’
You didn’t screw up.
Reframing ‘problematic’ aspects positively helps you feel better instantly. Once you know that you can use this to make things better, I promise, you’ll feel less hopeless. Ok, so, on with the steps to sleep…
You can use your brilliant tool to get your baby to fall asleep…. At a time that works for them. Review your child’s individual cues, and use your tool to help your little one fall asleep at a time that works for them. That’s it. Just focus on that one step. I promise, getting to know your child’s cues, helping them to be stimulated in the day, but not cranky is a big step.
You can use your tool to get your baby to fall asleep, at a time that works for them… With some small limits on location. You might decide that instead of rocking them as you walk around your home, that you will only rock them in your bedroom, or their nursery. Placing some small limits is ok. The exact steps don’t matter as much as whether they get you one step closer to your goal.
You can use your tool to get your baby to fall asleep, at a time that works for them, with limits on location, but you place some limits on how you use your tool. So, for example, you might try rocking your child with them in a lying down position, rather than have them held vertically against your chest. Or you might try rocking till they are calm, then lie down with them, hugging them close.
You can get your child to sleep, at a time that works for them, in the location that works for you, with less support from you. Now, what you could do is begin to change how they fall asleep. For example, you might rock only briefly, then lie down next to your child. Or you could hold them still to get them to fall asleep.
Breaking it down
Exactly what you do will depend on you, your baby, your situation, and what tool you use. You can take as much time as you like. If you are in a crisis, you may need a different approach. The important thing is not to be overwhelmed – just chunk it up into more manageable steps and you’ll feel a lot more in control.
You’re doing great parents!
Lyndsey Hookway is a paediatric nurse, health visitor, IBCLC, holistic sleep coach, PhD researcher, international speaker and author of 3 books. Lyndsey is also the Co-founder and Clinical Director of the Holistic Sleep Coaching Program, co-founder of the Thought Rebellion, and founder of the Breastfeeding the Brave project. Check Lyndsey’s speaker bio and talk brochure, as well as book her to speak at your event by visiting this page. All Lyndsey’s books, digital guides, courses and webinars can be purchased here, and you can also sign up for her free monthly newsletter here.