“Is your baby sleeping through the night?” How many times have you been asked that as a new parent?
While it may seem like a rite of passage or a task to check off your parental to-do list, teaching your baby to consolidate nighttime wakings is more of a marathon as opposed to a sprint. Many parents will of course choose to tackle nighttime wakings or weaning all at once in a finite period and that is one way to do it. But it’s also possible to take a more gradual approach and support your baby through the process in a methodical way that allows their natural sleep abilities to shine through. When you’re ready, or even right before you think you might be ready to tackle weaning or consolidating night feedings/wakings, here are 3 important factors to take into consideration.
1. Have I spoken with my baby’s trusted healthcare provider?
Hopefully you’ve selected a healthcare provider/pediatrician for your family who you respect and trust! When you’re considering weaning or just consolidating some of those night feedings, it’s a great idea to do all your research first. Aside from searching on social media and the internet, it’s best to consult an actual medical professional when you’re in the process of gathering credible information. Your pediatrician should be able to zoom out on your baby’s full health picture and may bring up some points for you to consider that you hadn’t thought
about yourself. For example, is your baby gaining adequate weight? Or maybe you’re about to start trying out some solid foods and your doctor advises you to hold off until you see how they react. Afterall, you don’t want to make too many changes at once when it comes to babies. Since babies may have food sensitives/allergies that develop or come to light when introducing new foods, if you’re trying to skip feedings you may think they’re crying because they’re hungry or having trouble learning to self-settle, when they’re really crying because of a food sensitivity/allergy. If you change too many variables at once it may not be clear why your baby is crying in the middle of the night. There are a whole host of other health reasons doctors may recommend holding off on dropping/consolidating night feedings. And since you’re in the gathering credible information phase of the process, you might as well collect data from other credible medical sources too such as your lactation consultant, nurse practitioner, early intervention therapists, and chiropractor as well. Now, you don’t necessarily have to follow exactly what one specific healthcare provider tells you, but their professional medical opinion is just that, an opinion.
2. Is my baby on the best schedule for their age?
If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a thousand times: If your baby is overtired, they will have a more difficult time falling and staying asleep in the night. I really cannot stress this enough. If your baby is taking short naps and is fussy, cranky, and/or clingy at the end of the night and you’re planning to try to teach them to self soothe in the middle of the night, please take a step back and look at their schedule first. Depending on your baby’s age, you’ll want to consider wake windows and what their daytime sleep total is. Even if your baby still needs to be held to sleep or feed to sleep for naps, its far better to get them on the best schedule first, before working on the nights. If your baby is not getting close to the recommended amount of daytime sleep for their age group and you attempt to teach them to self soothe in the middle of the night, it’s quite likely you’ll end up with an inconsolable baby and wind up feeling tortured during the process. The better rested your baby is, the much gentler the entire process will feel. Don’t mistake this for me saying there will be no crying as this widely varies upon many factors, but there will be far less crying if you start with a full tank of sleep.
3. Is my baby able to fall asleep on their own at the beginning of the night?
When I’m getting to know a new client on a discovery call, this is one of the first questions I ask. Babies who can fall asleep on their own at the beginning of the night tend to have a much easier time connecting sleep cycles. This is because their sleep environment is remaining consistent throughout the entire night. This would be comparable to you falling asleep with your very favorite pillow and then your partner seeing how peaceful you look and thinking “Hmmmm, my partner’s pillow looks soooo cozy that I think I’ll take it for myself so I can sleep like that!” You might not wake up when your partner takes your pillow depending on where you are in a sleep cycle. But, when you reach the end of that sleep cycle, instead of seamlessly connecting the next sleep cycle your body would notice something is amiss. We all wake ever so slightly between sleep cycles but most of us don’t even notice it because we’re so good at connecting the next one. When something has changed in our environments however, this slight waking can turn into a full-blown waking. So, now you’re between sleep cycles and your body wakes you up to figure out what’s gone awry. You look over and see your partner sleeping like a champ on YOUR pillow! You’re now not only fully awake, but you’re mad! You might even yell. This is what can happen with babies too. If your baby fell asleep feeding or in your arms and then they wake between a sleep cycle and are alone in their crib…. Cue the crying! Work on the way your baby falls asleep in the beginning of
the night first, and your baby will have a much easier time connecting sleep cycles. You may not even have to deliberately wean or consolidate feedings once your baby can fall asleep on their own. Depending on whether your baby is on the best schedule for their age and getting the recommended total amount of night and day sleep, after a week or so of falling asleep on their own, most of those night wakings could fall away all on their own!
Whether you’re ready to start tackling those night feedings now, or think you’ll be ready soon, it’s important to do what feels right for you and your family. It’s possible to consolidate feedings first so that your baby isn’t waking so many times during the night but is still eating once or twice during the night. If your baby is less than 6 months of age it may not be possible for them to sleep through the full night, especially the last 2/3 of the night. Working with a Certified Sleep Consultant can be helpful as far as managing expectations when it comes to the age and biological development of your baby/child, ensuring your child is on the best schedule for their age, and helping you to come up with a plan for achieving your goals that feels aligned with your parenting style. If you’re feeling like you want to start working on night feedings/wakings and don’t know where, when, or how to start, send me a message, and let me help