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Why is my child waking up at night?

Why is my child waking up at night?

How come my baby can sleep 2 hours uninterrupted some nights? And 5 hours the next?

I have seen her sleep better than she is!!! Why isn’t she doing this every night?

Pretty much the million dollar questions, I know! And ones I am still answering daily, even after I have started working with a family, and we are problem solving to find out what exactly makes their baby “tick”.

The truth of the matter is, babies do not sleep like adults.

As adults we sleep in 3 – 4 hour stretches at nighttime. Typically we connect two sleep cycles such as these and form our 6 – 8 hour night. Sometimes this is with little to no disruption. Other nights, we are wide awake middle of the night and wondering if we should get up and be productive! 

All of us wake up at night. Me. You. The nextdoor neighbour. The guy who walks the dog. Yes! We all wake up at night. We might nudge our spouse over. We might wake up to pee (one can only hope..).  Or we might get a glass of water.

Babies also wake up at night. However, their sleep cycles are much shorter than adults. These range from 30 – 45 minutes during the day, and are more like 90 minutes to 4 hours at night.

Since we know that the transition from “awake to asleep” is a vulnerable change of state for most humans, with infants being no exception – it is natural and normal that a baby might need some assistance to connect from one sleep cycle to the next.

Inconvenient for us. Yes.

Inconvenient for baby. Probably much less so.

Of course there are other factors at play beyond a baby’s sleep cycle being shorter on average than an adults, that can contribute to night wakings.

What time you are putting your child to bed, and what their daily rhythm looks like will play a part in this process.

I certainly do see children have more trouble sleeping when they are put to bed for the night overtired. I also see them struggle to sleep when their day has been super busy, or full of events that are out of the norm. 

When we get behind the child’s eye, and think through what a busy day might mean for that child.. some of their night waking behaviour sometimes becomes more clear.

For example; baby is taken to a large family dinner.

These are all hypothetical, and by no means am I saying you shouldn’t take your baby out to a family dinner once in a while. Your baby will certainly benefit from going out to a large family dinner once in a while!

But, I am using this as an example of how the repercussions of this might actually present themselves in your child’s sleep.

  • Baby’s nap is cut short so that the family can ensure they are on time for the start of supper.
  • Baby’s post-nap snack of fruit, veggie, and dairy is cut, and a granola bar is offered in the car instead.
  • Baby spends time in arms at the gathering; going from person to person who oodles at their cuteness.
  • Baby does not spend any time on the ground crawling around, because the family has a large dog, and parents are nervous about this.
  • Baby spends very little time crawling, furniture cruising, and maximising energy output.  
  • Baby is fed a food item for dinner that they have never had before.
  • Mom is nervous about breastfeeding babe in front of her cousin, and therefore skips a regular feeding time without even noticing this.
  • Baby falls asleep for a minute or two in the car seat on the way home, and then has difficulty transferring to the crib.
  • Baby wakes frequently overnight as a result of x, y, z.

When our days follow a regular rhythm and predictability, baby does get used to this. And it also makes it easier to troubleshoot on those difficult nights what exactly might have gone wrong, if anything.

Night wakings are for many reasons. We know this.

Thirst. Hunger. Milk. Extra touch-time. Cuddles. Comfort. Checking you are still there.. just to name a few!

Now what I will say is this;

Many babies do seek to recreate the way they fell asleep at bedtime, to transition from one sleep cycle to the next.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is natural. It is normal.

But, if the “thing” you are finding your child “needs” in the middle of the night is the same thing they required to fall asleep at bedtime, you may want to help them learn to fall asleep in a few different ways, and see what comes of this exploration?!

And as always, I am here if you prefer to make the line a little straighter, and journey to sleep in a way that is a little more concrete. 

XO

Lara

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Sleep Associations – the good. the bad. the ugly?

You’ve surely heard about them by now..

Sleep associations. The things your baby associates with falling asleep.

Are they negative? Are they positive? Are they causing you to wake up MORE at night than you would be without them?

Good questions, really.

In the world of baby sleep there is a lot of emphasis on sleep associations. There is a lot of emphasis on the way your baby makes the vulnerable transition from awake to asleep. We do know that this transition IS a vulnerable one for a baby to make, and so it is only natural and normal that they would need some help in doing so.

Sleep associations that you hear of often include; pacifier use, or sucking on a bottle to fall asleep, being nursed to sleep, or rocking in the arms of a loved one. Sometimes a baby requires the swing, car, carrier, or stroller, to be able to fall asleep.

I would argue that some of the above can be used in a very positive way to help your baby go to sleep, and this is where I will remind you as I always do.. That if what you are currently doing is working for you, there is absolutely NO REASON to make a change!

Unfortunately, many of the same associations above can become an unsustainable sleep need that families are unable to uphold at every sleep time.

For example; if your baby can only sleep in a car (true of a couple of families I have worked with), this is usually not going to be a sleep association you can sustain for months. If one person always has to drive overnight so a baby can sleep; when will that parent get the sleep that they need to be happy, healthy, and attentive?

In my experience, there are some sleep associations that will ALWAYS be helpful for a family. If your baby learns that these items are associated with preparing for sleep, it is likely going to help you in the long run.

  1. A predictable and loving bedtime routine – we know that babies become great predictors of events. They come to associate their actual routine with going to bed at 9 or 10 months of age after going through the leap of programs. But this is not to say a loving bedtime routine is not a helpful sleep association sooner than this. It is an increased opportunity for connection with babe, and this is always a positive thing!
  2. Bath before bed – a warm bath at the start of your little one’s bedtime routine can be helpful. The bath raises your body’s temperature, and then the almost immediate decrease in temperature after the bath is done helps signal to the body that it is time for sleep. The steeper drop in temperature is more likely to put your little one into a deeper sleep, with the onset of melatonin production.
  3. Massage before bed – Deep pressure calms the nervous system, and babe will love the skin-to-skin, and eye-to-eye, connection time here.
  4. Dark sleep space – we know that our bodies will secrete melatonin in the dark, which is why those blackout blinds are truly important!  
  5. White or pink noise playing consistently – when babies transition through their sleep cycles, we know the first sense to “turn on” is a baby’s auditory sense. If they hear white noise in the background when they fall asleep, as well as, at partial arousals.. There is a small chance they will put themselves back to sleep. It also helps drown out toddler siblings, and neighbourhood noises.
  6. Swaddle or sleeping bag – depending on the age of your babe; these are great signals that sleep is coming. Many babies form a positive association with what they wear to bed, and I have seen my own children rub their cheeks fondly on the shoulder of their sleep sack. Bonus – you’re not second guessing their temperatures in the middle of the night where our body temperature naturally drops.
  7. Reading a book, or singing a song – another beautiful cue that bedtime is coming. When a parent sings or hums the same song on repeat, this often becomes a nice focal point for babe as they transition to sleep.
  8. Mutually beneficial cuddling, rocking, or snuggles – I say “mutually beneficial” because there is usually a time limit here for a parent before they become frustrated that the child is not going to sleep. I usually ask the families that I am working with to snuggle their babies for 5 minutes closely before putting them down for bed. There is a bit of an art to this, but not really one I can write out in full detail in a blog post! You will have to hire me for the elaborate shush pat. Haha.

I often say to the families I am working with this…

If you resent something your child associates with going to sleep, then let’s change it?

For some this means removing one thing the child associates with falling asleep, and offering another connection point instead.

For example; for a family who is having to replug their child’s pacifier multiple times per night, can we introduce a back rub that baby associates with falling asleep instead? Work on adding that in for a few nights, and then sub out the pacifier for a hold and back rub in the middle of the night? Allow baby to express their frustrations in arms with you, but don’t offer false hope if the pacifier is not coming back.  

Or, if baby is used to being bounced back to sleep at every night wake; is there another repetitive motion we can replicate in the crib that is less “hands-on” or labour intensive?

Not all sleep associations are bad. Not in the slightest. Depending how you look at it, maybe none are bad! It is all perspective, and education.

Breastmilk makes babies sleepy. That was designed by nature, and nature makes no mistake. Unfortunately nursing a baby to sleep at bedtime, does not always equal long stretches of sleep through the middle of the night. But it is also not wrong to do in the slightest, and some families are lucky enough to see their babes link up sleep cycles doing this as well.

Try out some other associations with your babe, and see what they think? You might be very surprised to see that they associate something else positively with going to sleep, and it may be something that is more mutually agreeable for the both of you.

Hope that helps give you some ideas, and food for thought.

XO

Lara

Thank you to Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful “feetie” photo shared here. 

 

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Toddler Waking More Than the Newborn

Is this your life? Get new baby to sleep. Fight the toddler to bed. Baby wakes up to feed. Toddler wakes up for water. Baby wakes up to feed. Toddler wakes up to tell you about Star Wars. Baby wakes to feed. Toddler wakes and insists she needs to pee. Baby wakes to feed. Toddler wakes and needs a cuddle. Everyone is up for the day! And everyone is seemingly well rested.. well.. except mama!

Honestly. I can remember this time in my life like it was yesterday. It wasn’t yesterday… it was almost a year ago now, but I do recall the sheer sleep deprivation that is having a toddler and a newborn baby.

The birth of a sibling really shakes things up! This is a huge transformative time in a family. Everything you once thought you knew is no more. Everyone is just adjusting to their new roles. And since we know sleep does not exist in and of itself, there are going to be some repercussions to welcoming this beautiful little creature earth side. Your toddler has been sleeping through the night for weeks, months, years, maybe even… and now you are suddenly engaged in a game of “whack a mole” every night bringing them back to their bed.

Just going to take this opportunity to tell you all that after I had Theo I did not sleep for 36 hours. This is the longest I have ever not slept in my life. And I am alive to tell the tale. Haha! But, I will save that for another blog post at another time and stick to the task at hand which is, explaining what is happening when your toddler is sleeping worse than your newborn.

If your toddler was sleeping well before baby was born, I know this is a difficult transition to make. Your go-to strategy may be to draw a hard line in the sand, fire all systems up, and nip this in the bud before it becomes anything worse.

But, you have been following me a while so you probably know this won’t be my recommendation! Hehe.

Our children wake in the night for a number of different reasons.

First of all, they don’t sleep like adults. Their sleep cycles are not comparable to adult sleep cycles, and they spend more of their time in lighter sleep than we do, even at 3 and 4 years old.

Toddlers are also beginning to decipher the difference between real and make believe, which makes some of their nightmare experiences downright terrifying.

And another reason that our toddlers wake is for attention. They used to be the baby. They were the ONLY apple of your eye, and now they have to share you. Wah wah wahhhhhhh… not exactly what they signed up for. The amount of attention they previously received has likely been cut by more than half and so they begin to seek this attention wherever they can get it. Often this means more prolonged requests at bedtime, and various visits in the middle of the night. When you are their captive audience, they absolutely will seek you out. The baby is sleeping mom…. I can have you ALL to myself – and I will!

Now the other struggle you may find yourself in come middle of the night is the “power struggle”. Your toddler has essentially just lost a lot of power with the introduction of the new baby. He used to get what he wanted when he asked. Now he is being told to, “wait until the baby is done nursing,” or, “share your toys with your sister,” or, “don’t hit the baby!”. He used to rule the roost! Wait for a snack he did not. Share his toys he did not. He could play with what he wanted, when he wanted, and all the time he had a captive audience. Now suddenly you may see some powerful requests come middle of the night. “I NEED my Star Wars pajamas!!!” “I NEED my RED water bottle not the BLUE water bottle, and I don’t care if it is 2am! Find the bottle MOM!”.

Yeah.. you get the idea. Have kids they said. It will be fun they said.

And while you’re trying your best to be empathetic, I also know you just can’t deal with the fact that you are up more at night with your toddler than you are with your newborn. The new baby just wants to feed. She’s not making demands about pajamas, night-lights, or the like!

So what can we do to help our toddlers in this transition?

1. Don’t expect them to make big changes before baby arrives.

  • If you’re one of the smart ones and you are reading this BEFORE the birth of your second baby – here is my advice. If it is less than 6 months before baby’s arrival let them keep their comforting items. Keep them in the crib and order a second one for babe if necessary, let them keep their pacifier, and their bottle of milk before bed. Otherwise you are likely setting yourself up for a power struggle, followed by a sleep regression. And as you probably know – once you’re in a power struggle with a toddler, you’ve already lost. Your dignity. Your sanity. You know the drill.

2. Increase opportunities for attention.

  • Really hard to do at first. I know that. But it gets easier, and you will become a pro at this before you know it! Give your oldest child as much focused one-on-one time throughout the day as you can. Play at their level. Let them lead you through play, and engage you how they see fit without the distractions of phone, TV, cleaning, or the like.
  • Think about how much time they are spending with you in the middle of the night, and try to match that in the daytime. Ensure they are getting lots of positive attention in helping to do things for baby as well. “Thank you for getting brother’s blanket, you’re such a helpful big bro!” All these little thank you’s will add up to a big confidence boost, and a love bucket that is just a little more full.

3. Increase opportunities for power.

  • If power struggles at bedtime or middle of the night are part of your equation, increase your toddler’s ability to call the shots.
  • In their bedtime routine; do you want the red toothbrush, or the blue one? Purple pajamas or pink? Straw cup or sippy cup?
  • You can also give them a few cards to use at bedtime to make requests. A card they trade for one more hug, an extra sip of water, milk, or a cuddle. But once you have fulfilled the request, take the card away and return it the next morning. Show that the boundaries you do set are meant to be respected, but allow your toddler to know where these boundaries lie before insisting that they fulfill an expectation they know nothing about.

4. Ensure your toddler is not waking because of an environmental factor.

  • Do they know how to find their soother in the middle of the night? Can they pull their blankets back on when they are cold? Or, should they be in a sleep sack with foot holes like this one made by Halo. Are they falling asleep with a nightlight on, and when they wake in the night it is turned off? Can they turn it back on themselves?
  • Look at the things you do for your child at bedtime, and ask yourself if your toddler can be asked to re-create this come middle of the night. If the answer is no.. you may need to make some changes, or teach your toddler the skills to fulfill these requests and guide them in the middle of the night to do these things for themselves. I know it would be easier for you to just switch on the nightlight tonight – but then this becomes the expectation for tomorrow night too. Guide your child to do this in the night, and they will learn this is something they should start to do for themselves as well.

When it comes to making sleep changes everyone is usually playing the “short game”. The game that is going to get you back into bed as fast as possible on any given night. But I assure you, with a quick fix, a problem persists. I would encourage you to look for the root of your child’s behavior, and begin to work around resolving that need in particular. Lead with your heart. Treat your little one like the human being they are, and surely you will be able to troubleshoot this one in a way that works for both of you.

And a couple of last minute suggestions if it’s still not working out for you…

Repeat the mantra “this too shall pass”, and maybe tattoo it on your forearm so you see it at every turn. 😉

Or consider booking a toddler consultation with me. This is probably my favourite age group to work with and I would love to help you out.

XO

Lara

Thank you to this beautiful family, and feature photography by www.stacielynnphotography.ca.