Is there a topic that occupies us more as new parents than how to get our children to sleep longer? Faster? Or earlier?
The craving to maximize the number of quiet night time moments we can spend recharging ourselves and our relationships unites us all. Because parenthood tests us like nothing else. At the end of a long day, we desperately need some me time.
“The days are long, but the years are short.” Gretchen Rubin
But, this longing is easily taken advantage of by non-responsive sleep trainers; promising quick fixes to sleep-challenged parents and selling sleep as if it is a commodity we can simply buy for our babies.
At a new mama’s talk I recently gave, a mother of a happy, perfectly normal four month old baby, asked what would happen if she didn’t sleep train? She wondered if it was better to do it now and get it over with, as if it was an inevitable ingredient of babyhood. Because this is the message new mothers are given, time and again.
Questions like, is he a good baby or is she sleeping through the night, serve to do nothing more than derail parents who are bravely and selflessly doing a phenomenal job at being the night time parent their baby needs.
The real issue that must be addressed is the unwillingness of society to accept the fact the babies are not designed to sleep through the night.
We resist and I wonder if it may be because, if we accepted an inconvenient truth, we’d feel compelled to actually help and support new families in the way they need, rather than in the way that’s easiest for us.
With that in mind, here are a handful of ways to help babies sleep in the way in which they are biologically designed to do. To help you block the white noise of society so you can trust ancient wisdom and see your child for who they truly are – not a sleep stealer, but a new soul who simply needs you, day and night.
1. Take Advantage of Natural Remedies
Sleep is more a state of being rather than a skill that can be learned. When the conditions are right sleep easily overcomes our babies, taking them to a restful place where their minds and bodies can grow and rejuvenate. Here are a few natural methods and remedies that can help make the process of falling to sleep a little easier:
Regulate the temperature: Melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep, naturally increases as core body temperature drops, thus triggering sleep. Research shows that babies (and adults) sleep best when the room temperature is between 68-70F or 20-21C. A lower room temperature is protective against SIDS.
So, open a window and welcome fresh air, dial the central heating back a notch and cool your bedroom as part of your baby’s bedtime rhythm. But, remember, this doesn’t mean your baby should be cold! It’s important to make sure that babies stay warm throughout the night. My son was, and still is, a ninja when it comes to kicking off the covers so as a baby we used superfine merino pajamas and sleep sacks – I can’t recommend them highly enough!
Tart Cherry Juice: this tip is more for toddlers and children rather than babies. Tart cherries contain naturally occurring melatonin which has been shown to improve sleep. The ruby red color is due to proanthocyanidins, which can help increase the availability of tryptophan, an important precursor to serotonin, which also encourages sleep.
The juice is also shown to inhibit an enzyme – indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase – that degrades tryptophan, a known predictor of insomnia. You can find tart cherry juice here and this is a super helpful article by Genevieve of Mama Natural for some practical tips on recipes for giving tart cherry juice to kids.
A touch of lavender: Lavender is well known for its ability to relieve anxiety, soothe restlessness and aid sleep. But, essential oils need to be used with care, especially with babies and young children and should NEVER be given orally.
For babies and young children, adding a couple of drops of lavender to an oil diffuser when you start your bedtime routine can be a great idea to ease into relaxation. Make sure to find a pure, therapeutic grade oil.
2. Listen to Nobody But Your Baby and Breastfeed to Sleep
As a new mother, I remember searching online (ironically after my son had nursed to sleep) about whether breastfeeding to sleep was a “bad” sleep association. I’d find countless articles condemning the practice; the claim being that babies must be put down “drowsy but awake”. Some “experts” went so far as to suggest that if a baby fell asleep at the breast, to wake him up and then expect him to fall asleep on his own.
Having nursed my son to sleep over five thousand times (and counting) I can honestly say that nursing is the most natural, relaxing and instinctive way to help our babies find sleep. It is normal, healthy and developmentally appropriate. It is a superpower that Mother Nature gave us to help our babies sleep.
Why we would consider squandering this or making our lives more difficult than they need to be is simply beyond me.
The truth is that breastfeeding and sleep go hand in hand. The sucking action of breastfeeding releases the hormone cholecystokinin, which results in feelings of sleepiness in both mother and baby. This is often misinterpreted as being physically draining for a mother, but it is in fact Mother Nature’s way of ensuring new mothers get the sleep they need too (rather than getting up to clean the house!).
Babies also don’t make their own melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) for much of their early life. But, nature is clever and guess what has plenty of melatonin in it? Your nighttime breastmilk. It naturally helps babies develop their own circadian rhythm.
There are countless reasons, backed by science, that demonstrate that nursing to sleep and throughout the night is what nature intended. So, nurse your baby to sleep mama and enjoy every moment.
3. Permission to Be as Silly as You Can
Does your child love to be silly before bed? To run around, rough house and laugh? But, have you been told that you need to discourage the behavior? To quieten them down and ease into bedtime. It makes sense to do that, but what if I told you that laughter has been clinically proven to induce melatonin production; every giggle is bringing your child closer to sleep.
Kate Orson, author of Tears Heal, has some wonderful suggestions that we love using in our home, “If your child runs a mile when you suggest it’s bedtime, then perhaps have a fun game of chase, letting them escape so they take on the more powerful role. Or try to dress them in their pyjamas but ‘dress’ the pillow. Read their bedtime stories in a silly language, or have the book upside down, and wonder why the words are coming out all wrong. Put yourself to bed instead of your child. Each time you make a ‘mistake’ exclaim to your child about your confusion at how you just can’t seem to get it right.”
Kate also suggests that most sleep advice fails to address one of the major causes of sleep issues: the emotional struggles that our children go through. Big emotions that haven’t been processed can make it difficult for babies, children (and adults) to fall asleep, wake during the night or early in the morning. Providing a safe environment full of warmth, connection and laughter can help children release or discuss unresolved feelings so that they can find sleep more easily.
4. Follow Your Instincts and Lean In, Not Away
A study of 600 parents, by Gentle Parenting Advocate, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, revealed that 46 per cent of parents lied to a doctor, midwife or health visitor about bedsharing for fear of being judged. I understand why. Mainstream media preaches that bedsharing parents are endangering their babies lives. But, nothing could be further from the truth.
Sharing sleep promises untold benefits for both our children and ourselves. It promotes breastfeeding and increases the odds of a successful breastfeeding relationship. It offers natural protections against SIDS. And, bed sharing mothers enjoy more sleep. Dr. Stephanie Quillin and Dr. Lee Glenn published a study in 2004 in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, in which they found breastfeeding and co-sleeping mothers enjoyed significantly more sleep than mothers who bottle fed or slept alone.
Another study reported breastfeeding parents got 40-45 minutes more sleep per night on average during the first 3 months postpartum. Many co-sleeping mothers also perceive they’re getting more sleep and thus have a more positive outlook on their babies’ sleep and their role as a mother.
So share your bed with your baby, do it with pride and find a way to make it work for you. If you’re a new mother, go to sleep with your baby and bank some much needed extra rest. If your baby is older but wakes as soon as you leave the room, watch Netflix in bed with your partner or read an eBook. Or if you’re worried about your child falling out of bed find a practical solution that works for your family like putting the mattress on the floor or using a bedrail or under the cover bumper.
And, I promise you, before you know it, you’ll easily be slipping out of the bedroom after your child easily falls asleep and like me, you’ll be missing the excuse to snuggle a while longer in the dark, black stillness.
5. Find Your Tribe (Where You Can Come As You Are)
Facing judgement as a parent is inevitable – no matter what choices we make, someone is likely to take issue with it. But, the only critic that matters is YOUR child.
But, sometimes, simply knowing that you are not alone can make all the difference. So, I’d love to invite you to come and join the Raised Good Natural Parents Group; a newly created Facebook group that offers support and guidance in a judgment free space. Just make sure to answer the three simple questions so that our wonderful admin team can approve your join request quickly. I’m excited to see you there!
What would you add to this list? I had to stop there or I’d be writing a book! Let’s blow up the comments below and share tips and ideas as we support each other to follow a path to gentle sleep.