With all the families I work with, I point them to these ten things you can work on now before starting baby sleep coaching if your child is 18 weeks or older.
1. Connect with your Doctor
Meeting with your doctor to rule out any medical reasons that your little one may be having trouble throughout the night (reflux, sleep apnea, allergies, ear infections) is the first step to determining if your child is ready for sleep coaching. Additionally, if you are still feeding in the middle of the night, ask your doctor what their recommendation is on that topic based on your child’s age, weight, and overall health. We are still able to sleep coach while keeping feedings in the middle of the night – having this guidance will help us determine the best route to take while building our plan together.
2. Start tracking sleep & meals
You are tired, and the last thing that you’ll remember is what your child did yesterday, let alone how long they just slept for their morning nap! Keep a notepad and pen in baby’s room or by your bedside to record naps, nighttime wakings, and how you got them back to sleep (rocked, nurse, sang to sleep). Doing this will give us a picture of what your child’s sleep patterns are and will help us determine their wakeful windows and ideal nap and bedtimes.
3. Ideal bedtime – what is it for your child?
The sleep log will also help us work towards what this time might be. If they are currently going to bed at different times each night, work towards identifying when they are ready for sleep. It’s important to watch for sleepy cues – becoming less active, blank stare, eye rubbing, red eyes and yawning. If you hit the yawning stage, you may have missed the sleep window. Start the bedtime routine at the first sign of sleepiness. Each baby is different, and some are really good and concealing their sleep cues, so be very watchful and get to know how your child responds. If you plan on shifting bedtime, I would recommend doing so in 30 minute increments which allows for a gradual adjustment for the child. In other words, if your 2 year old is typically used to going down at 9pm, don’t switch everything on her in one night and expect them to settle for a 7:30pm bedtime. For more guidance based on your child’s age, check out this article from Kim West, The Sleep Lady, that includes sample schedules.
4. Start to work towards a relaxing bedtime routine
Consistency goes a long way – as well as a relaxing bedtime routine. A predictable sequence of events helps children prepare for sleep. Avoid excitable and overly active activities and besides bath and brushing teeth, all steps should take place in the nursery or child’s room. Some ideas for elements of your bedtime routine are: bath, put on pajamas, sound machine turns on, dim lights, a quiet activity (ex. puzzles), reading books, singing a song, prayers, and of course, hugs and kisses. This routine should last 30-45 minutes and end with the child in their crib or bed – drowsy but awake. And to that point….
5. DBA – Drowsy but awake
So many parents ask me “what does drowsy but awake look like?”. The answer isn’t a simple one since this could look different for each child. What I mean by this is that you start working towards removing the sleep crutch (i.e. nursing to sleep, rocking to sleep, etc.) and instead transfer your child to the crib or bed when they are seeming tired, but not completely asleep. This helps them learn how to fall asleep on their own, without the assistance of a sleep crutch. I tell parents that on a scale of 1-10, 10 being asleep, DBA is between a 7-8 on that scale. Putting to bed too drowsy often leads to middle of the night wakings and potentially early rising. This is something we will work on during our time together, but start practicing now if you can!
6. Pacifier or no pacifier? That is the question!
If your baby is 6 months or older, understanding if the pacifier is helpful to soothe to sleep or another potential sleep crutch is important to your decision on whether or not to continue to use one. It’s important to ask: Can baby maneuver and reinsert their pacifier themselves? Do you have to make multiple trips in the middle of the night to reinsert their pacifier for them? Have you discussed with your pediatrician about potentially weaning off the pacifier? Research shows pacifier use during sleep may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, among babies who are 6 months or younger. When they reach 6 months, we can work to evaluate if this is something you will continue to use or if we can potentially try to transfer comfort to another object, like a lovey.
7. Begin to map out a gradual shift to a (flexible) routine
Now don’t get scared by the word routine. In no means do I mean a ridged schedule that you are not allowed to deviate from. Life happens and babies and toddlers may cooperate one day, and the next day they throw you a curveball! What’s important is to really look at their behavior and potential sleep windows as you evaluate your sleep log. You’ll start to see some predictability and patterns start to form after 6 months. Infants and young children thrive under a schedule that they are able to anticipate; one that allows them to know what is coming next and respond accordingly. It creates a sense of security and helps facilitate cooperation with naps and nighttime.
8. Work on a wake-up time that falls between 6 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.
If your child is over 5 months, this is important to move towards as it helps set baby’s internal clock and helps prevent throwing off their entire day. About 5 days before starting sleep coaching, work towards the goal of awake for the day by 7:30.
9. Get your support team on board (Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Caregivers)
Having everyone on board is essential to maintaining consistency and plays an incredibly large role in the success you will have. It’s important that your spouse, and other potential caregivers understand all of the aspects of the plan and are willing to follow-through.
10. Pick a realistic start date
Pick a block of time when you will not have any major disruptions that could potentially throw a curve ball to your child when working through the plan. Things like travel, moving, and the arrival of a new baby can all cause issues that could impact success. You want to have an approximate 3-week block of time that these major events will not fall on to work through your plan.