First, it is important to remember that sleep problems are part of the child's development and that more than one in four children wake up several times a night during the first year.
So let's talk about that inevitable and feared question "is your baby sleeping through the night yet?"
This question can be so painful for parents suffering sleepless nights and worrying about their child's sleep. It is also very much part of the Western society to hope that a newborn will sleep through the night very quickly but let's keep in mind that nocturnal awakenings are absolutely normal and even necessary for baby's good development.
Moreover, if a child had the same sleep cycles as an adult, he would be unable to wake up when hungry, cold or when having a clogged nose, a wet diaper, or simply when needing a hug to feel emotionally safe. These baby's needs would remain unsatisfied and might hinder its proper psychometric development. So, it would be irrelevant to talk about sleep disturbances before baby turning 6 month old.
After spending nine months in mom's womb, in a dark, closed and protected environment, living in the outside world already requires a huge effort for the baby! Everything in the baby's everyday life (getting air in the lungs, differentiating noises, discovering hunger, dealing with wet diapers, cold etc..) fatigues her immensely! Baby naturally needs a lot of rest to assimilate all these changes.
How to facilitate sleep learning?
Sleep in the child is a full-fledged learning. It takes time and repetition to establish a proper routine. Many parents do not know that sleep is getting ready throughout the day. Sleep is primarily a matter of separation for a child. Falling asleep is a first step but what is next? A baby completely ignores the notions of rest for the body. First of all, she must feel emotionally safe throughout the day, then reassured and calmed at bedtime to be able to "separate" from her parents.
Here are 3 tips to help you improve the quality of your baby's night:
(1) make sure to provide a safe and appropriate response whenever your baby needs you throughout the day.
(2) let your child experiment with short "alone" times during the day when she can play, fall asleep by herself in order to smoothly learn to separate from you without feeling any stress.
(3) accompany her at bedtime until she learns to fall asleep by herself without fear.
Advice to set up a good sleep routine:
- Learn how to spot your baby's fatigue signs (yawning, eyes rubbing, cries, face hiding...) and put her to bed early, without waiting for the exhaustion - it will facilitate her sleep.
- Start a routine with rituals during the day and especially at bedtime to help your baby identify serenely the different parts of the day. (eg: sing the same lullaby every-time you put her to bed; give her a bath always at the same time during the day... etc)
– Make her sleep in the dark at night; it will encourage the secretion of melatonin (a hormone facilitating sleep).It is an unfounded belief to think that babies are afraid of darkness. And during day time naps, do not hesitate to leave daylight in the room so that the child can learn gently to differentiate days and nights.
If, in spite of all these tips your child is still having a hard time to fall asleep by herself, you should consult a specialist. There is no real danger when a child sleeps less than he should, but the consequences of sleepless nights and fatigue can affect the couple and impair the parent's ability to remain benevolent with their child.