Naturepedic is excited to welcome back our friend Rebecca Michi, children’s sleep consultant, to our blog! Get to know Rebecca in this introduction to gentle sleep training and look for more blog posts from her soon.
Sleep is something we all love and – as parents of young children – we may not get enough of.
Before my eldest was born, I thought I knew how the tiredness would feel. I'd been a student, after all. I was well versed in sleep deprivation! It wasn't too many days after our son was born that I realized I had seriously underestimated the level of exhaustion I would feel.
Yes, newborns sleep a lot, but they also wake a lot.
I don't remember how old my son was the first time I was asked a question I would hear so many times throughout his babyhood. A question that made me doubt myself as a parent and repeatedly made me think I was doing something wrong.
I'm sure you have heard this question; you may have even asked it to a fellow parent. Can you guess what this question is?
"Are they a good sleeper?"
Who knew that five little words could make me doubt myself so much.
My son wasn't a “good” sleeper. In fact, we called him the amazing non-sleeping baby! He would very reluctantly fall asleep after what felt like a battle of wills and would wake at any noise. If my knee cracked, a door was closed a little too loudly, someone sneezed, I tried to set him down in his bassinet...
You get the idea.
Why Didn't I Have a “Good” Sleeper?
I asked myself this question a lot, along with: what was I doing wrong?
In a sleep-deprived, teary haze, I searched online for some help. I didn't know what else to do. Shortly after I began searching, I started wishing I hadn't. After reading a few web pages (this was over 18 years ago, there wasn't as much online as there is now), I doubted myself even further.
The pages said that as I had a “bad” sleeper, I needed to do something about it. He needed to learn how to get to sleep; he needed to learn that I wasn't to pick him up the second he cried.
This advice made my heart hurt. I knew my son. I knew leaving him to cry was not an option. He was a kiddo who would get himself into such a pickle when left to cry. Leaving him would not help him – or me – at all.
Leaving a child to cry when they're asking for help wasn't for me.
I was trying to create a secure attachment with my son and ignoring him when he was asking for help felt like I'd be undoing all the hard work I put in during the day.
I wasn't sure which way to turn. I craved a better night's sleep; it didn't need to be perfect! I wasn't expecting him to sleep through the night, I was just hoping he would have an easier time falling asleep, and not fight it quite so much. I wanted to respectfully and gently support him on our sleep journey.
This was my bumpy introduction to gentle sleep support.
What Does Gentle Sleep Support Look Like?
As a children’s sleep consultant, I gently work with parents and their child to help them get the best possible sleep. I start by looking at what is normal for them. This will change depending on their age and temperament. When we know what's normal, we can set realistic goals.
Let's look at where we are now and how your child is sleeping. It doesn't matter where you're starting, whether that may be feeding or rocking your child to sleep or something else. Taking a good look at how they are sleeping might be harder than you think it would be. When you're up as many times a night as you are, you don't remember how many wake-ups you had or during which ones they had a feed.
That's okay. Some families will keep a sleep diary for a few nights or a week, noting the time wake-ups happened, how long your child was awake, and seeing when night feeds happened. It can be eye-opening; on paper your night may not look the same way as it felt to you during the night.
Now you know what your nights look like, we can begin to make tweaks and changes to encourage better sleep.
Remember, Gentle Sleep Training Is a Process
I don't like to make big changes when I work with families. Big changes don't always mean big positive results. They can often overwhelm both you and your kiddo and make sleep more challenging.
When gently working with your child's sleep, we make small, respectful tweaks and changes and work at a pace suitable for your child's temperament. It doesn't matter the pace, you can slowly and gradually make steps in the right direction.
Think of working on your child's sleep as a path. Your path begins where you are now, and your destination is the best possible night's sleep for your child. Of course, you could take giant leaps along this path, and you may reach your goal within four leaps. But, these big steps are wobbly, you may fall over, and it's tough on your knees and ankles. Alternatively, you could take much smaller steps. These are easier to take, you're not feeling the pressure to keep leaping, and you're able to enjoy the scenery. Your goal is the same, but the journey is very different.
Gentle sleep support isn't always the quickest; it's slow and steady, but slow and steady wins this race.
Interested in the topic of sleep training? Naturepedic, along with OnePoll, recently surveyed 2,000 parents. Find out what they had to say about sleep training!