This post is also available in: Svenska
Getting a baby fall asleep is a really difficult art. Sleep, or lack thereof, affects both you as parents and your baby. This topic is the most sought after and science doesn’t provide much help.
All babies are different – some fall asleep easier than others
Just like adults. Some fall asleep easily on the bus and in the carriage. Some are more like ‘the princess and the pea’; they need their own bedroom, favorite quilt and a certain routine for them to start unwinding. I am convinced that these differences are largely innate, so it is important to get to know your child.
Some want to be close, others do not
Some infants can only fall asleep near their parents, in physical contact with them. I don’t think that’s weird. Parents are the child’s protectors in the world. It’s understandable then that babies feel anxious when they fall asleep (ie. go into a completely helpless state) without having their parent there. I think of this as a survival trait. Maybe I’m right or maybe I’m wrong.
This thirst for closeness usually lasts for at least a couple of years, often longer. And recurs at developmental stages, illness, anxiety or major changes. Almost all families with seriously ill children have told me that their children, aged ten or twelve or fourteen, have returned to sleeping in their parents’ bed in connection with their severe illness. They started sleeping in their own room every six months for years after recovery.
Other children fall asleep best on their own bed, or in a stroller. Which may not have been a survival advantage, but definitely is an advantage in a safe home where the baby wakes up more alert and therefore often happier parents.
I should to give the mandatory warning about co-sleeping with your baby in the first few months. There is a small increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) if you co-sleep with your baby in the first few months. However, the most important thing to do to avoid SIDS is to let your baby sleep on their back.
Essential for putting your child to sleep – create the bedtime ambiance
In the years that I was putting my children to bed, I thought I was developing a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. For me it became extremely clear that if I could soundly convey the feeling that “we are tired now and it is calm and soothing. Now is the time to fall asleep”, they quickly fell asleep. If, on the other hand, I conveyed the feeling “hope you fall asleep quickly tonight so I can get up and get away from you as quickly as possible”, then I’ve created an angst atmosphere which never led to sleep.
I don’t believe in mind reading, but I definitely believe in emotional reading, or emotion transmission, between both humans and animals. And my most effective nighttime method is to work on my own feelings of peace and quiet.
Work on strengthening your own well-being
In short, it is probable that we need to accept that we have the children that we have, and it’s not possible to do much about their sleep patterns. But we can work on how we feel. If you feel (as many parents of young children do) that you are constantly living on the edge, are stressed and just need some time to yourselves, then it’s a good idea as a first step to try to reduce the demands on yourself. Then when you’re settled, the patience comes eventually.
Many babies soon develop a circadian rhythm where it becomes easier to fall asleep at the same time of day. Try to map, control and follow these sleep routines. It will make it easier for you. Feel free to create a predictable nighttime routine for your child. Whether it involves bath, story reading, cozy time on the couch, singing or being carried in shawl or harness is up to you. It helps the child recognize that it is time to unwind and sleep.
Tried everything and the baby still doesn’t sleep?
If you have exhausted your resources as parents, tried everything you can but you still can’t get a sleeping routine to work – seek help. As a first stop, midwives are great to talk to. If the problems is more than just sleep and the midwives’ help is not sufficient, see a pediatrician or child psychiatrist.
In addition to help with setting routines, and in ascertaining what else you can help with in the family and with the child, you can also try melatonin. It is sleep hormone medication that pediatricians and child psychiatrists sometimes prescribe to babies when nothing else works. Sometimes, especially when children don’t manage to calm down, it works really well.
What are your experiences of getting your child to sleep? What are your best tips?