How do I know if it’s the right time for me and my baby to begin sleep training?

newborn-659685_1920I speak to many parents each week regarding their child’s sleeping habits, and while I can offer tailor made advice to suit your specific needs, it doesn’t mean anything if you and your baby aren’t ready for it.

So how can you identify how you and your baby are ready for sleep training??

Here I will offer some thoughtful points to help you determine if you and your baby are ready to begin sleep training:

  • Your baby will begin to have preferences. Babies will learn early that some things feel good (e.g. being in mummy or daddy’s arms) and what doesn’t (e.g. dirty nappy). They instinctively learn to cry to get a clean nappy or be held if they need the comfort. At some point, though, a need can become a want. Your newborn will likely have limited self-soothing abilities or she will be great at sleeping, but then has their 4 month old sleep regression and suddenly has sleep problems. You will be convinced your, every-two-hour-eater is genuinely hungry or needs the comfort. Eventually, you will start to wonder if she really needs it as much as wants it. After all, maybe the only reason she “needs” it is because that’s all she’s ever known, not that she can’t sleep without it.
  • Your baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep. There is a difference between babies who can and can’t learn to self-soothe. Experts will disagree far and wide at the “right” age, but all situations are different. The key here is whether you believe that your baby has the ability to learn a new way to sleep, so follow your instinct.
  • The timing is right for your baby. Many will agree that a 6 month old can learn to self soothe but does that mean it wouldn’t be better for YOUR family to wait until she’s more like 12 months? Maybe. It depends on the baby, their temperament, what they’re going through and a whole host of other factors. You know your baby best and need to figure out the right time for your baby. And, keep in mind that you can always try, take a break, and try again, if you doubt your timing after you start.
  • The timing is right for you. Hearing your 16-week old or 6-month old fussing or crying versus hearing your 11-month old can be very different as you will find at these stages you are in separate ‘emotional states’.  Even still, it is different hearing a baby cry or your toddler saying “Mama!” or “Dada!” Whether you use a no-cry method or a crying one, there is bound to be some uncomfortable moments. Are YOU ready for some rough days and/or nights? Are you able to deal with it getting harder for a few days before it gets easier?
  • Your baby actually has a sleep problem. Sometimes, expectations are actually to blame for a baby’s “sleep problem.” Is your 8-month old breastfed baby still waking up once a night to eat? For many, that is brilliant and age-appropriate. All babies are different and sometimes you just have to adjust your expectations. Once you lower your expectations and stop comparing your baby to others you know, it does wonders for your outlook.
  • You realise that you NEED to sleep train. Maybe you can’t go on waking up every hour to put a dummy in your baby’s mouth or even if you have appropriate expectations and you don’t have a true “baby sleep problem,” you need to decide that you need to sleep train. I’ve had clients who are surgeons and getting up once a night month on month is just too tiring. So maybe you need to sleep train to get a full night’s sleep. Similarly, some clients experience more health problems, difficulty functioning, or post-natal depression. I recently had a client tell me she didn’t understand how sleep deprivation could be used as a form of torture until she had a baby. I totally relate!
  • You have the realisation of the commitment in sleep training. One thing that’s difficult about my job is setting appropriate expectations about how long sleep training will take. Some are frustrated three days later that changes aren’t happening fast enough. For some babies and toddlers, sleep training means you are changing habits as long as two or three years old. Results are simply not always overnight (though some are!). Granted, most will have at least some success within 1-2 weeks that helps give you the boost you need for the long haul.
  • You are ready to be consistent and patient. You need to be ready to be 100% consistent. Hesitating or changing strategies hourly or daily can lead to more crying and frustration on both you and your baby’s parts. Sleep training should not be seen as a ‘quick fix’ to be implemented and accomplished in one day. You need to be consistent both short-term and long-term. Patience is a key part of sleep coaching, too. Particularly if you are using a no cry training method, you need to be prepared to be patient. Just like your baby won’t learn to walk or talk in a day, you can’t expect him to learn any new skill in one day. Commit to the change.
  • You are ready to create (or invest in) a sleep coaching plan. Whether it’s one of my personalised sleep plans or you make on your own, have a plan. Decide what your goals are and how you will achieve them. Monitor progress and tweak the plan. Sometimes a curve ball is thrown, illness, sleep regression, holiday, that you didn’t anticipate, so you’ll tweak the plan. If your first plan doesn’t succeed, try try again.
  • You have some measure of support to help you through the process. Sleep training can be very emotional and draining and, if you lack confidence, the best of plans will fail. It really does help to have support whether it’s a spouse, friend, message board, or me, having someone you feel accountable to “check in” with can help keep you going.

I hope this article has helped you decide whether you are ready to tackle the sometimes very emotional task of sleep training or has given you the “ok” to wait. Only you know what you live day in and day out. Trust your instincts and they will take you far.

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The clocks are changing: How to help your little one adapt with ease.


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With the clocks about to change this weekend to welcome in spring, some of us may have concerns about the effects it will have on our child’s sleeping habits.

Typical, you have just perfected your baby’s sleep routine, your little one has finally mastered the art of sleeping well, then bang, you’re hit with lighter nights resulting in a child with a confused body clock. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Below are my tips to help make the transition smooth keeping disruption to a minimum.

 

  • Alter bedtime by half an hour on the first evening, eg Saturday evening – so it’s half an hour earlier than usual. Then adjust bedtime by another half hour on Sunday evening – so you’re working to the ‘new time’.
  • If you’re altering bedtime, naps and mealtimes will need to fall in line too. Make them slightly earlier to suit your new routine.
  • Light plays an important part in controlling our internal body clocks. Try spending a little extra time outside during the day for a boost of fresh air and natural light.
  • Using black out blinds or dense curtains helps create a darker, nighttime environment at an earlier time.
  • Do a bit of extra exercise with your baby – like playing games outside – so she’ll sleep well, but don’t totally wear her out as over-tired children are harder to get to sleep.
  • Prepare yourself for an early start: While the clocks going back mean an extra hour in bed for you, your baby won’t necessarily want to stay in his cot for that hour. ‘If he wakes early (6am instead of 7am), don’t expect him to stay in bed for the full hour, Wait 15 minutes then get him up. It may take a few days for him to adjust but stick at it, it really shouldn’t cause good sleep habits to unravel.

 

The important thing to remember is to keep your child’s sleep routine as similar as possible, children with good sleep routines tend to cope better with the changes in time as they know what to expect at the end of the day ie. your normal, if slightly altered with timings, bedtime routine.

Making little rather than large changes tends to work best. Remember, even if it takes a few days, your baby will naturally settle back into a routine.

 

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Take the first steps towards sleep training TONIGHT…….

February 21st 2017 

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If you’ve been sleep training your baby for some time, you will know that it takes time to see any meaningful results in your child’s sleeping habits. Sure, some parents see immediate results but know that this is not the norm. For the majority, successful sleep training takes time, patience and consistency for sometimes weeks, but it is well worth it for a full night of sleep.

Often it is the daunting prospect of starting that deters a lot of us from giving it a real go. ‘What do we do first, how do we begin and where to we begin? Nap-time or bedtime?’ This is a lot for an exhausted parent to consider.

With this in mind I want to help make this easier and clearer so you feel confident in taking the first step. Below are my 5 key tips to help you get started TONIGHT………

Identify your baby’s negative sleep associations

This is something that can be done right now, in just a few minutes! Think about how your child typically falls asleep. Do they  fall asleep while nursing, or drinking their bottle? Do they fall asleep while you’re rocking them? Do they fall asleep on you, or in your arms? All of these are negative sleep associations,  they are things your baby needs in order to fall asleep. The process of sleep training is simply weaning your baby away from her sleep associations, so that she can learn to fall asleep on their own, without outside help. Once you have identified your baby or toddler’s sleep associations, you have identified the problems that need fixing. That’s step one!

Introduce a bedtime routine

A fundamental rule to achieving good sleeping habits is routine. The consistent, soothing motions you go through, make your baby feel calm and secure, they will become clear cues for your baby to switch into sleep mode.

Your routine doesn’t have to be long or complex, keeping it simple is often better. But the key rule is to do the same every night. Follow these steps with consistency and your baby will come to know what is expected of them at bedtime and soon you will see positive changes in your child’s sleeping habits.

Begin to shorten the time spent with their sleep association

Now that you have identified how your baby falls asleep implementing an immediate, sudden change can be daunting for you and a shock for your little one. Look to gradually shorten the time spent with that association. For instance, if your baby is used to being rocked to sleep for around 20 minutes, begin by shortening this to 10/15 minutes, aiming to put your baby down awake but drowsy.  If this is done gradually you will soon wean your baby away from being nursed to sleep.

Don’t race in when your baby makes a noise

I choose an approach to sleep training that is gentle and calm therefore I never recommend the ‘cry it out’ method. However, I always recommend that you don’t rush to you baby as soon as they make a noise, pause for a moment and remember that not every noise is a cry of distress. Babies make all sorts of noises when they sleep and some noises are those made when we are simply drifting from one sleep cycle to another. If you wait for a few moments you may find that your babies settles himself without your help. So tonight, I am going to encourage you to pause for a moment to see if your little one settles himself.

Track your baby’s nighttime wakings and daytime napping schedule

Start to keep a sleep log. Note down all nap times and their lengths, the time your baby goes to sleep at night and the times and duration’s of any night wakings. Doing this will allow you to identify any patterns or trends that may be happening in your baby or toddler’s sleep, and it will also help show you where you are making progress and where you need to continue to focus your efforts.

Following these 5 simple steps is a great way to subtly introduce sleep training and allow you to regain control. Remember you are not alone, I am here to help you every step of the way.

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Back to school anxiety? – Key tips to prevent negative effects on sleep.

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Feelings of worry an anxiety are common and expected during times of change, particularly when returning to and starting school. These feelings can lead to issues with sleep and sleep – or lack thereof – plays a major factor in how children and teens react to this stress.

When children and teens are deprived of sleep, the physical symptoms associated with anxiety also intensify. Headaches, nausea, and hyperactivity are common responses in sleepy children.

The solution may be as simple as getting kids to bed earlier. However, even when put to bed early, children with anxiety may lie awake at night with negative thoughts, perpetuating a cycle of sleeplessness.

Below are some strategies you can use to help deal with back-to-school worries.

Look after the basics. 

Nobody copes well when they are tired or hungry. Anxious children often forget to eat, don’t feel hungry, and don’t get enough sleep. Provide frequent and nutritious snacks for your child. During this time, you also need to build in regular routines, so that life is more predictable for your child. These routines can involve the morning and bedtime habits, as well as eating schedules.

Encourage your child to share their fears. 

Ask your child what is making them worried. Let them know that it is normal to have concerns. Before and during the first few weeks of school, set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention (such as right before bed, or during mealtime). Teens often welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of their worries and feelings (such as driving in the car, or taking a walk).

Avoid giving reassurance…instead, problem-solve and plan! 

Children often seek reassurance that bad things won’t happen in order to reduce their worry. Do not assure them with “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!” Instead, encourage your child to think of ways to solve his or her problem. For example, “If (the worst) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some ways you could handle that situation.” This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to cope with (and interpret) both real and imagined scary situations. You will also be giving your child the tools he or she needs to cope with an unexpected situation that might arise.

Role-play with your child.

Sometimes role-playing a certain situation with your child can help him or her make a plan, and feel more confident that he or she will be able to handle the situation. For example, let your child play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Then, model appropriate responses and coping techniques for your child, to help them calm down.

Focus on the positive aspects!

Encourage your child to re-direct attention away from the worries, and towards the positives. Ask your child, “What are three things that you are most excited about on your first day of school?” Most kids can think of something good, even if it’s just eating a special snack or going home at the end of the day. Chances are that the fun aspects are simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.

Pay attention to your own behaviour.

It can be anxiety-provoking for parents to hand over care and responsibility of their child to teachers. Children take cues from their parents, so the more confidence and comfort you can model, the more your child will understand there is no reason to be afraid. Be supportive yet firm.  When saying goodbye in the morning, say it cheerfully – once!  Ensure you don’t reward your child’s protests, crying, or tantrums by allowing them to avoid going to school. Instead, in a calm tone, say: “I can see that going to school is making you scared, but you still have to go. Tell me what you are worried about, so we can talk about it.”  Chances are, your child is anxious about something that requires a little problem-solving, role-playing, planning, and/or involvement from the teacher.

Timeline Leading Up to the First Day of School

(You may not need to take all of these steps)

At least one week before:

Start your child on a school-day routine – waking up, eating, and going to bed at regular times.  Explain that everyone in the family needs to adjust to the new schedule, so he or she doesn’t feel alone with these changes.

For older children who having troubles getting up and out of bed, give them a “big person” alarm clock, and let them practice using it.

Ask your child to help plan school lunches for the first week.

Create a list of school supplies together and plan a fun shopping trip.

Teach and practice coping skills to use when feeling nervous, such as how to Do Calm Breathing

A couple days before school:

Go to school several times – walking, driving, or taking the bus. For young children taking the school bus, describe and draw out the bus route, including where the bus goes and how long it takes to get to school.

For new students, take a tour of the school. Show your child the classrooms, the cafeteria, and the bathrooms. If possible, meet your child’s teacher with your child present.

Ask your child to help choose the outfits for the first week of school. Let your child wear his or her favourite outfit on the first day.

Together with your child, pack up the schoolbag the night before, including treats.

For younger children who are nervous about separating, suggest taking a special object to school that reminds him of home. A reassuring note in a child’s lunch can also help ease separation anxiety.

The first day of school:

Have your child go to school with a friend for the first couple of days.

Tell the teacher that your child is having some separation anxiety – most teachers are experts in this area, and have years of experience!

Most importantly, praise and reward your child for brave behaviour!

 

 

 

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Consistency is key!

Consistency is key: 

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Whether you have a new born or a 5 year old, being consistent is key to good sleeping habits.

A child’s brain, even as a new born is set up to recognise and understand patterns. They are capable of associated learning, seek patterns and familiar behaviour and find comfort in them. So, being consistent forms positive sleep associations. This can be done from very early on, allow babies to spend time in their rooms with you. Show them that it’s a safe, calming place to be. Put babies down for their naps in the same place, they will begin to associate this space with napping/sleeping.

One of the biggest causes in a break in sleeping habits is parents not being on the same page. Ensure that the consistency runs throughout all caregivers, sit down and make a plan for all to follow.

Desperately trying many different techniques confuses and unsettles. Find one technique and a suitable routine and stick with it. Remember, keep the steps consistent every night and ensure your behaviours and tones are progressively more calming towards the end of your bedtime routine.

 

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Quick tips for self soothing

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Self-soothing is a learned skill, we need to teach our children this technique. It is a key skill your baby needs for good sleep.

In the first few months of life, babies will go from needing a lot of external soothing (rocking, shushing etc.), to gradually being able to self sooth. And being able to do this means feeling confident in your own sleeping place and surroundings, so it’s important to build up positive sleep associations.

All children wake in the night, as we sleep in cycles from deep sleep to waking. The difference between ‘good’ sleepers and ‘bad’ sleepers is, the babies who are practiced at self-soothing are the ones that go straight back to sleep.

Aiding your child to sleep means when they wake they won’t be able to self sooth, they will need you to settle them back down. So encouraging self-soothing from early will save a lot of sleepless nights later on.

Here is a quick list to encourage self-soothing:

  1. Put your baby down awake. Look for opportunities to put your baby down awake. A major reason babies wake up and can’t settle back down is because they find themselves in a different sleeping place.
  2. Loosen the feeding-sleep association. Gently remove the breast or bottle at the end of feeding before baby falls asleep.
  3. Become familiar with your baby’s sounds. If your baby is fussing, crying or making any such noise, resist the urge to swoop in. Babies can make a lot of noise on their way to self-soothing.
  4. Daytime independence. Look for moments during the day when your baby is happy to be on their own, this will help to nurture confidence.
  5. Transitional objects. Such as a blankie, soft toy etc. This is something that the baby can form an attachment too and find comfort in.
  6. Tummy time. Encourage tummy time when possible. Once your baby can roll and move (from 4 months) your baby has the skills for getting comfy and sleeping well.

 

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My 5 Step Bedtime Routine 

baby-1566615A fundamental rule to achieving good sleeping habits is routine. The consistent, soothing motions you go through, make your baby feel calm and secure, they will become clear cues for your baby to switch into sleep mode.

In my blog this week I am going to set out a good basic bedtime routine that I recommend to all of my clients. They are basic principles for healthy sleep and developing healthy associations with sleep. Follow these with consistency and soon you will see positive changes in your baby’s/child’s sleeping habits.

Important: Learn to read and understand your baby’s sleep cues. This will help you to know the optimum time to begin your routine.

The bedtime routine should be no more than 30-45 minutes long.

Prepare you baby’s/child’s room. Check temperature, between 16-20 degrees. Dim lighting and no stimulants.

1) Bath time.

  • Ensure the water is warm. Heat helps with the release of melatonin which is the sleep hormone.
  • No more than 10 minutes in length as after this the water will begin to get cold.
  • Bath time is a great time to bond and interact with your child, do so but in a calm way. Too much stimulation will release cortisol, the awake hormone.

2) Ready for bed

  • Massage (personal preference)
  • PJ’s on

3) Story

  • Keep it short, not over stimulating, no noises/pop ups etc.

4) Feed

  • Turn out the light I recommend only a very dim night light at this point.
  • Calmly saying trigger words such as ‘shhhh, time for sleep’
  • It’s important that you don’t allow your baby to fall asleep in your arms.

5) Bed

  • Lay your baby down in the cot, again saying trigger words ‘night night’

If your tone is calm and soothing, the steps are predictable and the end of the routine is clear, your baby will recognise that its sleep time and their body will expect the transition to sleep. The key principle is doing the same every night.

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