We would be hard-pressed to find a parent who does not desire healthy sleep habits for their baby. But, despite that universal desire, many families find they struggle in the sleep department. A child’s temperament, parental consistency, and other general factors in a family’s lifestyle can determine if a child is a troubled sleeper. We asked resident infant sleep expert Natalie Willes to share a few tips on what you can do to encourage your baby to get as much restful sleep as possible.
3am Club: What’s the first thing a new parent should focus on to help their baby sleep?
Natalie: First and foremost, ensure your child sleeps in a room that encourages excellent sleep. Keeping baby’s nursery as dark as possible and using loud white noise is key, along with ensuring baby’s crib is safe, which includes being completely empty of all objects. Also, make sure you have a video monitor camera mounted entirely out of baby’s reach so you can keep an eye on them even when you’re not in the same room.
3am Club: Is it true that some babies are just better sleepers than others?
Natalie: All babies fall somewhere on a spectrum of personality ranging from extremely easygoing to extremely sensitive. Babies who fall on the sensitive side of the spectrum are far more likely to struggle with their sleep. Even in situations where parents are willing to nurse or feed constantly throughout the night, they may find that their baby continues to struggle to sleep soundly. If you know your child is sensitive, also know that they will benefit most from extreme consistency on your part when you decide which methods to employ to address any sleep problems they may have. Sensitive babies are more likely to loudly protest things they find unpleasant, but their reaction doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing the wrong thing, as they are just as good at expressing how well they feel, even at a young age.
3am Club: Is there one sleep habit that all babies have to learn?
Natalie: No matter what sleep issue your child is having (for example, taking a long time to fall asleep for naps, napping for short periods, waking frequently at night, etc.), the number one skill your child will need to learn in order to overcome their sleep issues is falling asleep 100% on their own, with no help from you or other sleep props. Learning the skill of independent sleep is often known as “sleep training.” Throughout the 3am Club’s blog and abounding online resources are tools you can use to determine how to get started on your journey of independent sleep. Try to identify a method or sleep expert who provides detailed guidance on how to teach your child to fall asleep on their own for bedtime and naps.
3am Club: Parents always hear how important “consistency” is. But what does that mean exactly?
Natalie: Great question. It’s not just about consistency, of course. If you are consistently implementing the wrong methods to address your child’s sleep, their issues will worsen, not improve. But consistency is important once you find the right routine and tools for your child. First, it’s vital to identify a method to address your child’s sleep holistically (naps, bedtime, overnight feeds, etc.). Rely on the reviews of other parents who have implemented this same method to see if it has worked for them. Once you find the right path, be consistent in its application, not just for the training periods, but into the future as well. The more sensitive a child is, the more they’ll struggle when they are off their schedule or expected to sleep in a place that they are not familiar with. Conversely, infants who are more easygoing will bounce back from naps on the go far more easily. Unfortunately, you cannot train sensitivity out of a child—your job as a parent will be far easier if you learn who your child is, accept them, and learn how to best parent a child with that temperament.
3am Club: Where can parents turn if they are struggling to help their newborn sleep?
Natalie: The breadth of information online about healthy sleep habits for your baby is a double-edged sword. Thankfully, experts have dedicated their lives to helping families get their babies to sleep. Rely on these experts and their resources to educate yourself. The more you prioritize learning about infant sleep, the more likely you will be to make the choices and decisions that will encourage your infant to have the healthiest sleep habits possible.