By Brittney Stefanic
This past week, I had the privilege of taking over the Instagram Stories of Sleeping Baby Inc to host a question and answer session about pediatric sleep. And guess what?! IT WAS AWESOME!
Over 2,000 people visited the stories and nearly 200 questions were asked by sleepy mamas like you. I did my very best to keep up, but as you can imagine it was a busy 24 hours! I loved getting to share my sleep education with families that need it most, but some of the questions required answers that couldn’t fit in the screen-view of the Instagram Stories. I felt like I was giving a lot of “teaser” answers because of the space restriction.
So, we came up with the idea to expand on the five most popular questions and get a blog post written this weekend to help you out even more with full explanations and answers!
Without further ado… Here are the most frequently asked questions I was asked about pediatric sleep last week by Instagram users like YOU!
Why won’t my 4.5 or 5 month old sleep like they used to?
We got TONS of questions the other day about the 4 to 6 month olds and their lack of daytime and nighttime sleep. This isn’t all that surprising to me because of the biological sleep changes that little ones go through around the 4 month mark. This sleep “regression” is actually the result of babies sleep cycles being re-organized from a 2 part newborn sleep cycle to a 4 part adult cycle.
Oftentimes the things that worked to get your newborn down to sleep are a lot less effective once this change takes place. Which is why it feels like the biggest regression EVER!
Last month I wrote a blog for Sleeping Baby Inc about the changes at 4 months (and how to get through them) which you can find HERE. But the basic premise is… Until baby learns how to fall asleep independently, it is going to feel like you have taken a big step backwards in the sleep department.
A lot of questions also came up about babies crying while making habit changes with sleep, and the truth is… Change is hard! Since babies can’t communicate by telling you that they are thrown off by the changes, most of them cry (a least a little bit) when we alter their routines and practices. BUT this does not mean that you have to leave baby alone in a room to cry for hours on end. There are tons of “sleep teaching” methods out there, so do a little research and find one that feels like a good fit for your family!
How come some babies sleep well but my baby isn’t good at taking naps or sleeping through the night? Does this mean that babies are either naturally good sleepers or naturally bad ones?
Sleep is absolutely natural and absolutely vital to growth, development, immune system function, memory consolidation and learning, so all babies need it! The typical “bad sleeper” isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up, but they have learned to depend on outside assistance (a sleep prop) to get back to sleep when they wake up.
Everybody, regardless of age, wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night between sleep cycles. So, we can’t teach a baby to never wake in the night, but we can teach the skill of falling back to sleep independently.
Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, he will start stringing those sleep cycles together effortlessly; and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night”, as most parents understand it.
Spoiler alert… No one really ever sleeps through the night, but that doesn’t mean that your 1 year old needs to be waking YOU up every two hours.
The short answer here is that sleep is a skill which some babies possess really early and some take a little longer to learn. As a parent, you have the choice (and ability) to support your little one in learning the skill whenever you are ready!
How do I get my toddler to not need me to lay with them at bedtime and then stay in their bed all night?
Ohhhhh toddlers. As the mom of 2 year old, all the tot question I get totally hit home for me. First of all, toddlers do best to be in a crib until closer to 3. So, if you have a sleeping (or not sleeping) 2 year old, swapping to a bed will likely not be the solution. If your tot is already in a bed, you know that struggle is real!
Next, the bedtime battle. If you are having to sit with, lay next to, rock, or hold hands with your toddler to fall asleep, YOU are their sleep prop. You just read in the section above that without independent sleep skills, making it “through the night” is unlikely to happen until your toddler is able to fall asleep on their own.
No matter how much they push boundaries, toddlers and pre-schoolers crave consistency and knowing what comes next for them. So, routine is HUGE for this age. Similarly, it is important to set expectations around sleep and stick to them. Toddlers love game playing, and anytime there is a little variation in your expectation or “rules” they find this to be a very fun opportunity to take a mile when you’ve only given them an inch.
If my baby isn’t sleeping at night, should I cut back on the naps to be able to make her more tired for the night?
Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with the length of their naps.
Most of the time that I hear from families reaching out for help with their little ones, they are keeping them up too long during the day which can lead to overtiredness and overstimulation. Have you ever heard of the phrase “sleep begets sleep”? This is one way of saying, the more sleep we get, the better we sleep. And conversely, the less we are sleeping, the harder it is for us to sleep.
Newborns have an awake threshold that maxes out around 45 minutes to one hour. Even as those newborns get a little older, the wake time doesn’t increase all that much. In fact, until about six months, I recommend that your little one be awake for no more than about 2 to 2.5 hours at a time.
What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sack out for a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually just the opposite.
The reason we refer to it as being “overtired” is because baby has missed the “tired” phase and their bodies start to kick back into gear, which keeps them from falling and staying asleep and can result in hyper activity or protest. A baby who has gotten a decent amount of sleep during the day is far less likely to miss the sleep window. So, prioritize those naps!
My little one doesn’t really yawn or cry or rub her eyes much during the day, so I don’t think she is tired or ready to nap. Should I follow her cues or nap her anyway?
Babies need as much help and guidance when it comes to sleep as they do with anything else. Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles can be unbelievably erratic if left unregulated.
If they miss their natural sleep cycle by as little as a half hour, their cortisol production can increase, which causes a surge in energy (“hyperness”) and things quickly spiral out of control.
So as much as I wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way most of the time. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
Remember back to the first days of motherhood when you assisted your baby in learning how to eat. Whether they were learning to latch onto a bottle or to you, it was (most likely) something that they needed help with! Let’s give a big shout-out here for all the lactation consultants who helped us find success with feeding our babies!
Guess what?! Sleep is no different than eating in that it is a learned skill. It is most definitely a basic need, and oftentimes it is one that they need to be coached into. So go fourth and teach that baby how to sleep, mama!
Use the code HELPMESLEEP to save $8 off your www.sleepingbaby.com purchase of $30 or more this week only!
Brittney Stefanic is a certified sleep consultant. She gets that being a parent can be exhausting, especially if your little ones are struggle with sleep. As an educator, she believes in the power of teaching and loves to support families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook @brittneystefanicsleep for access to her free sleep tips and tricks and other opportunities for sleep Q&A sessions.
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