BABY AND TODDLER SLEEP – NO MAGIC BULLET!

by NillumbikConnections
5 mins read

Georgina Windebank is a Holistic Sleep Consultant, Qualified Naturopath & mother. She is passionate about babies and toddlers achieving age appropriate sleep for optimal development and to enable parents to be well rested and thoroughly enjoy the journey of parenting.

“Are they a good sleeper?” is one of the first questions we ask parents of a newborn as we proudly parade our new bundles of joy to friends and family or in my case.. anyone that I come across from the moment my son was born! The societal belief that children are either “good or bad” sleepers and moreso the belief that we as their primary caregivers have no control over this – is a complete untruth! This belief is commonly reinforced by polarities in the community – that babies sleep well or not, full stop! This kind of thinking provides no flexibility for the ebbs or flows of child sleep needs or the ever changing landscape of child sleep abilities as they develop and encounter biological, environmental and emotional changes throughout their early years.

These societal beliefs could not be further from the truth about child sleep. Babies have day/night confusion when they are born, they don’t know what is up and what is down! They are used to a cosy, noisy, warm environment of the womb.. then suddenly they are thrust into an environment full of stimulation, new-ness and light! Urgh, who would be able to sleep soundly with those kind of sudden environmental changes?

Instead a Holistic Sleep Consultant (and qualified Naturopath in my case) see sleep as a multi-factorial process. Many elements need to align and be put in place for a glorious, refreshing sleep to occur.  Some of these elements that need to be aligned are the environmental, emotional, feeding and scheduling. After 3 or 4 months babies do start to regulate and link their own sleep cycles. They are able to stir or wake from a sleep cycle and float back into the land of nod IF a few key elements are in place.

ENVIRONMENT

This element of successful age appropriate sleep is so under acknowledged. Replicating the womb – the organic state where babies were most comfortable before entering this stimulating world is a great place to start. Implement these elements and you’re on your way to more zzzz’s!

Warmth – we have always been taught not to ‘overdress’ our babies, but in fact every client I work with is underdressing their babies and they are too cold. Being too cold means they can’t get to sleep and stay asleep, it also means… get ready for a 5.30am wake up! Babies are unable to regulate their own internal temperature until about 15 months so we need to do this for them with warmth and appropriate clothing.

Image by joffi from Pixabay

Darkness – repeatedly clients tell me their babies bedroom is “pitch black” and yet I go into the room and its it up like the Taj Mahal! There has to be absolutely NO light poking through blinds. A dark room kick starts the body to produce Melatonin (the sleepy hormone) in response to darkness. With these sleep hormones on board, sleep is not far away!

White Noise – background noise has sooo many beneficial effects for child sleep. Cast your mind back to being pregnant, your baby was in your womb cosy, warm and it was NOISY in there for them! We get out babies home, put them in a quiet room and expect them to comfortably sleep?  Not going to happen! White noise is useful as babies float from one sleep cycle to the next. If they wake up in silence having being so used to the noise in the womb it is very disconcerting for them. It also blocks out outside noises like garage trucks, birds, dogs barking and anything in between.

ROUTINE AND SCHEDULING

I hate to tell you but babies and children love, love, love routine! Yes it’s true. They like to know what’s coming next in their day. No surprises means no cause for anxiety.

Routines don’t mean you need to be stuck at home for all naps, seven days a week. It actually means you can be flexible in your life as you know what is happening when! You can arrange that coffee with a fellow Mumma when you’re baby is sleeping so you can actually have an uninterrupted chat! Say what?! Or arrange a play date with a friend when you know both babies are awake. You can plan early family dinners, always prioritising sleep but not being a slave to it. As babies, they are so drowsy and new to the world so they can only handle short periods of wakefulness. As babies develop they can handle longer awake times. A schedule that is 100% right for your baby means the prevention of an overtired baby! Now who likes an overtired baby? Not me! It results in grizzly, inability to feed, crying, resistance to naps and my least favourite, early rising. So the real question is with all these difficult factors that create overtired children, if families don’t have routines in place, why wouldn’t you pop your child on an age-appropriate routine? A suitable bedtime for child is also crucial to avoid over-tiredness. Babies and toddlers should be going to bed at 6-7pm and rising at 6-7am. This is in optimal alignment with their circadian rhythms (aka internal body clocks).

EMOTIONAL CONNECTION

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

There are many components to successful child sleep, emotional connection is definitely one of the top three!  Children ultimately need to feel safe and secure in order to achieve a restful sleep. Well actually, we do too! Sleeping on a park bench would be really difficult for an adult that is used to sleeping in a bed as we wouldn’t feel safe and secure. Safety also relates to “emotional safety”. Emotional safety is crucial for adequate sleep. Especially when we are expecting our children to go to sleep independently and sleep in their own sleep space.

Babies need to feel emotionally connected and secure with their parents or care givers. If a child doesn’t feel connected and engaged with mum and dad throughout the day or reconnected if they have been at a care environment during the day, they will often seek this connection overnight. Children may wander into mum and dad’s bed or cry out, in the pursuit of connection. We need to ensure our connection time is happening in the waking hours not the middle of the night.

 If you have all these foundational elements of sleep in place but your baby is still struggling with shut-eye, Georgina can walk you through the next stage of achieving “good” sleep (yes that ol’ chestnut!) for your family. Contact Georgina here to chat about how she can help you and your babe get the best nights sleep.

Written by Georgina Windebank, The Holistic Sleep Project.

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