Hush little baby
It’s long been known that sleep deprivation is a form of torture and don’t we know it! (All new mamas raise your hand) If you—and your baby—are not getting enough zzz’s, get your swaddles ready, and read on. Clinical psychologist Pamela Mitelman from the Kids Sleep Clinic in Montreal gives us her best advice for a better night’s sleep.
During the first three months of your baby’s life, nothing is normal, and anything goes. According to Mitelman, “the baby’s internal alarm clock is not developed yet. Their circadian rhythms only start mimicking adult ones around three months. Their sleep should then resemble ours, just more hours of it.” That doesn’t mean you can’t begin establishing good healthy sleep habits as early as 8 to 10 weeks, just check your expectations by the bassinet.
Create a consistent routine
Start a bedtime routine, even if it won’t mean anything at first. You want to develop cues that allow your baby to recognize when bedtime is approaching. Give them a bath at the same time each day, in the same room. Even if you don’t bathe them every day, get them cleaned up in the same bathroom. Then, spend 15-20 minutes in their room before they’re ready to fall asleep.
Health Canada guidelines do not recommend putting any items like a blankie, or a bonding doll in the bed with them under a year. Instead, Mitelman recommends using a swaddle or a transitional sleep sack to help create that sense of soothing comfort.
The most important thing is not to wait until they’re overtired to get them to sleep. Look for cues that they’re ready to go to bed, like yawning or rubbing their eyes. Or simply put them in their crib when you feel they’ve been awake for a certain amount of time.
Interrupting the routine
“I answer this question about 6 times a day. It’s such a source of concern for parents,” says Mitelman. “Vacations, illness, teething, developmental milestones. It does occur.”
She recommends establishing good habits when life is somewhat normal and you have the opportunity. Don’t start something new during illness or on vacation. Deal with whatever is derailing your schedule first and immediately when it’s over, go back to your healthy routine. It will also teach children to adapt to different situations.
Understand your child’s developmental stages
It’s not because something worked for the first year, that it will automatically work forever. There are developmental milestones that will change your child’s sleeping patterns.
“The way a 2-year old sleeps is very different from the way a 6 month old sleeps,” explains Mitelman. “At 2 years and 11 months, for example, your child may be ready to drop a nap, but he still naps at daycare. And you’re still trying to put him to bed early at night. That’s when you’ll get bedtime resistance from toddlers.” Anything from climbing out of the bed, to asking for a glass of water, or going to the bathroom. You need to identify a developmentally appropriate bedtime at every stage.
How your child is falling asleep in the first place can also affect whether he wakes up during the night. As adults we partially wake up several times during the night, we flip the pillow, or change sides, and go back to sleep. Children have 4 to 6 opportunities to wake up in the night, and the way they go back to sleep is the same way they fell asleep to begin with.
“Do whatever works for your family,” suggests Mitelman. “Generally, if a parent comes to me, it’s because their method isn’t working, but if someone calls me and says my child is not sleeping well and I’m adamant that they sleep in my bed, I would try to help them.”
No matter what, “the biggest message to get across when I coach parents of infants is to take the stress out of it—they’ll be fine!” says Mitelman.
Pamela Mitelman, PsyD, OPQ
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
The Kids’ Sleep Clinic