Setting Up A Sleep Plan: Part 1 - Is It Time?
There are many families out there who are wondering if, when and how they should make changes around their baby’s sleep. We hear the talk about sleep coaching everywhere and it is almost like we need to feel guilty when sleep is not going quite as planned. The voices of “baby should be sleeping through the night by now” or “how long do you plan on night feeding?” are constantly in our ear. I am a mom of 3 and know exactly how loud those voices can be at times and as a sleep “expert” sometimes it feels even worse. Side note, I still feed my 9 month old in the night because I enjoy the cuddles and that is what works for me right now!
This blog is a series of 3 parts to help you decide if now is the time to make changes and how you can get started. I am in no way encouraging you either way but want you to have some information on how to make a plan of action. Often times I get emails and messages that simply state “I am not even sure where to start” and so if you are feeling this way then this blog was written for you!
When to start sleep training?
First things first, is now a good time to start sleep coaching for your family? I want this to be part one because the first step of making changes is having a readiness for change! If you are not ready then it won't work. This chart is an overview of the 5 stages of readiness for change. In order to succeed and have positive results with sleep coaching YOU need be at a place where you feel ready to implement a plan consistently. You need to be at the Preparation stage!
I always first make sure the parents or caregivers are ready to make changes. There are many cases where a baby could benefit from some sleep training but the parents are not quite there yet. Trust me when I say it is not worth it if you don’t feel ready. You are the one implementing the plan and so in order to have the most positive results you need to be able to proceed with confidence. If you feel bad, guilty, sick or just have a bad feeling then now is not the time! Follow your parental instincts because they are there for a reason. On the other hand, if you feel like you know it will be tough and you feel bummed out that you have to do it but look forward to the healthy changes taking place then for you this might be the perfect time.
Indications that now is NOT a good time to start a plan
Now that it is decided that you, the parent, are ready for change we can now look at if your baby is ready. When identifying if a baby is ready for sleep coaching I first eliminate all of the factors that may indicate that now is NOT a healthy time for changes which include:
- The parents/caregivers are not ready: If the parents don’t feel right about it then a plan won’t be able to be implemented properly. This can lead to more upset from the baby and may lead to a more negative experience all around.
- Baby is under 4 months of age: Most sleep experts agree that babies who are under 4 months of age are not ready for sleep training. This is especially true if a goal is to reduce night time calorie intake as many babies for the first few months of life are feeding around the clock (which is normal by the way!). Your baby needs to be at an age where developmentally they can form associations so that they are learning how to fall asleep with positive sleep cues versus falling asleep because they think you are not meeting their needs. This milestone is one that develops during that 4 month regression.
- Your baby is sick: When a baby is sick they need some extra TLC and that is perfectly o.k.! If your baby is sick with a cold or the flu then now is not the time for sleep training. Ride out the illness and when they are better you can start making plans for change.
- You will be or are travelling away from home. It is good to have a solid 2 weeks to implement changes and then give it a couple more weeks to solidify into a consistent pattern. If you will be travelling in the next month then I often recommend to wait until you get back.
- You have other stressors going on in the home. Sleep training is not fun and it is not easy. Some babies adapt faster than others and even if you choose a method that is slow and gentle there will still be protesting. If there are factors in the home that will make it hard for you to stay consistent then now is not a good time to sleep train. It is only fair to your baby that you start introducing the new healthy cues around sleep and then continue with those consistent cues so that they can adjust and feel secure with the changes.
Signs That Your Baby is Ready To Start A Plan
Alright, now you feel ready and nothing from the above list is in the way of starting so we can move forward. Yay! Sometimes it is hard to know when your baby is ready for sleep training but there are a few clues that I look for. I have discussed these in my sleep associations blog (read this to learn about how associations work!) but want to chat about them again here:
- Your baby is not sleeping well at night and does not nap well during the day: If you feel that your baby is sleeping well then there is no need to move forward with sleep training but if nobody is getting much rest then it is time to get some more sleep.
- Your baby will only fall asleep with a specific object or action: Sometimes this can be totally fine in cases where a baby falls asleep with an action like feeding or rocking because they sleep well after that. But, if they NEED something specific to fall asleep and then wake up frequently at night and don’t nap well during the day then this can be very frustrating.
** Although nursing to sleep can be very soothing it can often be one of the most restricting ways for a baby to fall asleep. Nobody else can put baby to sleep except for mom! If you enjoy doing this then KEEP DOING IT but if you are feeling a little trapped then this might be a sign to make some gentle changes such as shifting the nursing a few steps earlier into the routine versus having baby fall asleep with it. Even 15 min earlier can help :) When doing a sleep coaching plan I NEVER encourage mom to discontinue breastfeeding or reduce calories. We are always just shifting the feed a little earlier so that we can work on sleep while maintaining the feed relationship. Plus, we want all that sleepy breast milk in the system!
** Bottle feeding is a little less restricting because other people can give a bottle. In these cases I still shift the bottle a little earlier in the routine if working on sleep to help with any feed to sleep association.
- It is taking longer and more effort for your baby to fall asleep: sometimes that thing they NEED to fall asleep works well and it isn’t really a problem. Over some time though it seems like it works less and less and now even with that specific object or action it is still taking a long time for your baby to fall asleep. A healthy amount of time to fall asleep is about 15 minutes or less. Or, maybe your baby falls asleep really quickly with what you are doing but when you try to put them down they wake up right away! This shows that maybe it is not working as well as it used to.
- You dread naps and bedtime: This goes along with the point above. It is not taking so long and so much work to put your baby to sleep (and usually they don’t sleep for long) that you start to dread sleep times.
- Your baby wakes up A LOT at night: It is normal for babies to feed at night but we want to see long sleep spurts between the feeds. If your baby is 4+ months old and is still waking every 1-2 hours all night long then this is exhausting for you and for them because nobody is getting quality sleep.
- When your baby wakes up to feed at night but then wakes up as soon as you try to put them down asleep they wake up immediately or even after the feed they fight going back to sleep: Feeds at night are normal but we want them to be meeting your baby’s needs. If they are fighting to go back to sleep even after being fed then it might have more to do with associations.
- Your baby naps for under 1 hour on a regular basis: These short naps lead to a significant amount of sleep debt making your baby overtired. Overtired babies do not sleep well. I’m not saying every nap should be perfect but we do want to see longer naps each day.
- Things are going not to bad but you want your baby to be able to fall asleep better on their own. This is very common and many parents feel guilty about it. Baby sleeps well once asleep and naps good but they need their parents to put them to sleep. Sometimes just being able to put them down and they fall asleep on their own can eliminate some stress around sleep.
Now that you have the information to know if you and your baby are ready to make some changes you can make the decision to either go for it or wait a little longer. Either decision is the right one if YOU make it!
Coming up next - Step 2: Building Your Action Plan