Sleep is a hot topic in the world of parents and babies.
Each new family member brings a significant change in terms of sleep for the other family members. There’s a gazillion sleep books and sleep products on the market, each claiming the best quick fix but the truth is, sleep is a natural function of the human body that does not need to be taught or trained. It’s a matter of addressing the things that are interfering with the body’s natural rhythms, the human need to feel safe and inviting a lifestyle for the whole family that supports healthy sleep for everyone. Because each family member is equally as important and in turn influences each other.
The tricky part is that the pressures and expectations of our society and our rushed lifestyles today, often make it harder than it should be. We expect new parents to be up and running so soon after birth and the question “Is he/she sleeping through the night yet?” is on everybody’s lips from aunt Gerty back home to the new mom you meet at coffee gatherings.
The good news is that the body wants to sleep! But anything and everything affects sleep. So before jumping to the magic quick fixes (aka behavioural approaches listed in sleep books, that often ignore important underlying factors to be addressed to come to the root of an issue), it is essential to evaluate the below foundational aspects of sleep. In general, the below guidelines are applicable for children aged 0-4 years but can also be very individual for each child and each stage of development.
Sleep for the whole family should be prioritised.
Yes that’s right. Everybody needs their sleep to be able to function and due to the uniqueness of each family and their dynamic, how this will be accomplished will vary from family to family. So don’t feel bad if the tips from your neighbour’s boss or your delivery guy’s nephew is not right for you. Just nod smiling and say thank you
Expectations and beliefs of sleep.
Phew, this is a big one! It is important to come to terms with the reality of the biology of babies and what they are capable of. Their tummies are tiny, so naturally the younger they are, the more frequent they need to refuel. In addition, newborns need the comforting sensations of the womb as explained in our article “Preparing for Baby’s 4th Trimester” to help them adjust to life outside the womb and become calm enough to be receptive to restorative sleep chunks. Our society in general expect too much from newborn babies due to our inability to prioritise sleep recuperation for new parents during the daytime in the early months when nighttime sleep is naturally broken. It’s also only recent in our human history with the advent of artificial light that we started to favour sleep in one long preferably uninterrupted chunk in order to be more productive during daytime.
The Parents’ relationship to themselves and self-awareness.
Babies are not yet able to regulate their own emotions and states. They are very sensitively attuned to their caregivers. Parents that prioritise self-care and take daily pauses to breathe, reflect and integrate the busyness of life mindfully, have better self-awareness skills, emotional intelligence, are more confident, are better able to be aware of their own needs and the needs of others, have better access to their innate parental instincts and understand how their wellbeing affects everybody else in the household.
Quality of relationships within household
The way caregivers and members of the household communicate and interact with each other, sets the tone for further relationships. Mutual respect, empathy, compromise and understanding helps to build quality relationships that make babies feel safe and supported. An additional layer of support (like other family members) beyond members of the household strengthens this even further. Unease in the air, can be felt by our little sensitive tots.
Relaxation & Stress levels
Being mindful of how the stress levels of each member of the household impact other members and taking measures to soften stress or prevent/minimise incoming stress into your household is another step towards more sleep for everybody in the household.
Physical and emotional wellbeing as well as safety and security
Illness and any medical conditions disrupt sleep naturally. As adults, when we feel poorly, we don’t sleep as well. Children need lots of love and extra comforting when they are ill and you can expect their sleep to be affected as well. Please do not ever consider using any mainstream behavioural sleep tactic when a child is unhealthy. The good news is that usually after recovery, if the parents reinstate healthy and consistent sleep foundations, babies usually catch up on some lost sleep. Remember to give yourself some self-compassion, a mental pat on the back, during these trying times. You are dealing with a lot but this will not last forever.
Emotional connection time during the day filling baby’s emotional bucket is also essential for sleep. Even though we spend time with our children the whole day, we may not always give them the emotional connection they crave and need. Parents are usually happy to hear that even just ten minutes of intentional connection daily at a time when baby is receptive can help build baby’s feeling of emotional security which in turn increases the likelihood of baby feeling connected enough to offload unconscious upsets recorded since conception in the emotional brain. The body naturally wants to heal from stored traumas through laughing and supported crying so it’s important to not always try and distract your baby away from emotional upsets. Daily intentional connection is best done with either parent, uninterrupted, sans any devices, getting on the floor with baby on his/her level, lots of eye contact (not forced of course), listening, observing and following baby’s lead during this time.
When we look at behaviour it is important to see it as a child’s way of communication instead of getting lost in the feeling of frustration. Try to tip it around and rather become curious. Get interested in finding the need behind the troubling behaviour and you may just come closer to addressing the need and voila, the behaviour disappears.
The circadian rhythm and light/dark cycles
As adults, our sleep is regulated by both the sleep/wake homeostatic sleep drive and our circadian rhythms (biological clocks). In children, their biological clocks are immature at birth (hence why your newborn doesn’t care a hoot about day or night) and completes a big maturation shift between 3-5 months of age (but started shifting already around 6 weeks). Babies in utero, already learn from their environment and expecting moms can therefore have a positive impact if they install healthy sleep practices during pregnancy, ideally before challenges even arise.
Our circadian rhythm is impacted by light signals entering the eyes and sending signals to the brain to release stay-awake-hormones or in the absence of light, release sleep hormones. Each person is also unique but in general, once parents become more conscious of how light regulates sleep and how they can use light in the morning to set the circadian rhythm, a gradual decrease of light in the hour leading up to bedtime and how darkness impacts baby’s nap duration etc, it leads to an improvement in sleep.
The Sleep Environment
A safe and regular, calm sleep space is a big part of healthy sleep. Taking naps in the stroller, your arms, in the baby carrier/sling etc is wonderful but having a regular spot at home where baby can sleep peacefully gives you a break and helps baby to get used to this special sleep space. Each family will be very different so do not compare yourself to anybody else. Set this space up so it is conducive to sleep and very importantly safe.
It should feel like a sanctuary, not over-stimulating with bright colours or dangling mobiles (these are great above the changing table for stimulation time). For safety reasons, any cot bumpers, sleep positioners, stuffed animals or loose bedding should also be avoided and it’s important to keep the room temperature safe. If you are bed-sharing it is crucial to follow the Safe Sleep 7 by La Leche League International and despite what many public organisations or even healthcare professionals might say it can be very beneficial for families to bedshare, there indeed is a lot of misinformation on this subject in the public health arena. Learn more about this topic through the work of Dr James McKenna. For all the ins and outs of how to choose the best baby carrier and where and how to find a Babywearing Professional, refer to the series of articles on the topic here.
Environmental and green awareness
Being conscious of minimising the toxic load your child (and the whole family) is exposed to will enhance sleep as the body works very hard during sleep to eliminate toxins. Use natural baby products where you can, non-toxic cleaning materials at home and read ingredient labels thoroughly of anything entering baby’s mouth, nose or skin. Air quality is another important factor. Make sure your whole home is properly ventilated, especially the sleep environment and especially during winter.
A consistent schedule
After the newborn period, babies thrive on a consistent schedule which doesn’t have to be rigid but definitely predictable. And the closer the schedule can be to the schedule at daycare or other caretakers and over the weekend (our bodies didn’t get the memo to run on a different schedule over weekends), the smoother our body systems will run while clapping hands. Keeping a sleep log over a period and noting down how baby fell asleep will help bring you closer to your baby’s best schedule. Remember, all babies are unique and so there is no set schedule at the same age for all babies worldwide so don’t stress if your baby doesn’t sleep like the books say. Rather tune in to find your baby’s unique schedule and pay attention to those sleepy signs so you can put baby down for a sleep before baby is overtired and will find it harder to fall asleep. Simple but powerful.
Routines and rituals for transitions
Moving from an active awake state to a calm drowsy state happens in stages. Being attentive to your baby’s sleepy signs (each baby will be different) and the general amount of time your baby can be happily awake will help you to know when it is time for your job as parent to stop what you’re doing and gently cue your baby for restful and restorative sleep with a mini winding down routine before naps and a longer goodnight routine before bedtime. Again, simple but powerful.
Nutrition & hydration
Of course, a hungry or thirsty baby ain’t going to sleep. And if a baby isn’t eating enough during the day, the only solution for nature will be to seek the necessary nutrition at night. So if you would like to get a longer stretch at night. Pay attention during the day to proper feeding by working with your midwife or lactation consultant.
Quality of breathing for baby and caregivers.
Pay attention to how you are breathing and allow yourself to take deep breaths to help reorient your nervous system and help you access your logical brain, as you go about your day. Report any mouth-breathing in your child to your pediatrician for further investigation.
If you are expecting a baby, learning and understanding what is needed for a newborn baby to sleep, as well as developing realistic expectations and important safety recommendations will be invaluable. The Luxmama Club & ParentPrep asbl offers a Newborn Sleep 101 workshop (on demand) for expecting parents to help them foster healthy sleep foundations from the start and enter the new sleep experience consciously. After the newborn stage, the Sweet Sleep Foundations workshop is also offered to expand on the above mentioned foundational aspects when it comes to sleep.
Furthermore, developing healthy sleep practices already during pregnancy will not only enhance your and your baby’s wellbeing, but can positively impact the birth experience, your awareness around sleep as well as baby’s developing circadian rhythm taking notes in utero from mom’s sleep and wake rhythms. The Luxmama Club & ParentPrep asbl offers a Better Pregnancy Sleep Workshop for expecting parents which is recommended even before possible sleep challenges in pregnancy arise.
- For any pregnancy or baby related questions, Initiativ Liewensufank offers a Baby Hotline which you can call on ( +352) 36 05 98, Monday to Friday between 9:00 – 11:30 am or email firstname.lastname@example.org at any time with any questions or concerns you have. Counseling is also offered to support you.
- Crisis management services are offered at the premises of Initiativ Liewensufank by facilitators certified for perinatal crisis management. Cost is 32 € for non-members. They can assist with all kinds of issues. Consultations take place in Itzig, Betzdorf/ Grosbous. You can contact them at: 36 05 98.
- You can of course also ask your independent midwife visiting you, any questions surrounding babies and sleeping.
- The Ligue Médico-Sociale is a government health organisation providing free support to parents for children aged 0-4. They randomly send out invitations by post for a home visit (“Visite à domicile) by a nurse to some new mothers. Use this opportunity to ask any further questions you may have. If you have not received an invitation and would like to request a visit you can contact them at 48 83 33-1. They also provide free baby clinics (“Consultations pour nourrissons et jeune enfants”) in your area. You will be able to weigh your baby and ask any other health related questions you may have. They also provide free informational sessions regarding feeding, security at the home, sleeping and baby’s sensory world. The language of the course depends largely on the audience. Quick tip: Go early and request them to do the course in English!
- The Luxmama Club & ParentPrep asbl offers monthly social events and support for expecting and new parents with or without babies, Parents Circle where you can also ask questions to a maternity, parenting, health, wellness or holistic sleep professional.
- Midwife.lu also offers various courses where you can ask the midwives attending any questions you may have.