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What am I Doing Wrong?

Novice parents and baby newborn

When it comes to breaking a habit or changing a routine, we tend to make little tweaks to the formula, because baby’s not responding right off the bat, or because we think a slight adjustment might make it a little more “customized” for our child, who we know, and our doctor/lactation coach/sleep consultant doesn’t.

And we’re absolutely right in thinking that. Mothers know their babies like nobody else possibly can. We have a finely-tuned sixth sense when it comes to our kids, and we can tell when something’s wrong with them, even when medical science and experts can’t.

Which is great, but it does come with one little drawback.

Sometimes we rely on it a little too much.

In my experience, parents who rely too heavily on their instincts have a harder time teaching their kids to fall asleep on their own.

Why? Because they don’t allow the child to cry? Well, sometimes, but there are actually a number of situations where our intuition can steer us wrong when it comes to sleep training. Here are a few of the most common ones I see.

  • Being too helpful

Obviously, as parents, our babies need us for just about everything. When it comes to mammals, human babies rank among the neediest ones out there, so we’re instinctively conditioned to run to their assistance whenever we feel they need it.

Sleep is probably the first instance among many where your child is going to have to learn how to “go it alone,” so to speak. (Disclaimer: This is a figure of speech and I in no way advocate leaving your child alone for the entire night without any comforting or consolation. You hear me, haters?)

What I mean by this is that babies need to learn how to fall asleep independently, and sometimes parents can inadvertently sabotage that learning process by rushing in, picking baby up, singing, rocking, and shhh-ing baby back to sleep at the first hint of waking.

Consider it the infant version of doing his homework for him. It may help in the short-term, be he’s not really learning anything.

  • Feeding to sleep

This should also include feeding to “almost asleep,” or feeding to drowsiness.

When people hear the term “sleep prop,” they tend to assume it’s a toy, or something inanimate at least. It’s not so. Feeding is one of the most common sleep props I see, and why not? Baby’s wrapped up in a blanket, lightly bouncing in Mommy’s arms, getting all full and relaxed. That’s a pretty sweet way to drift off to sleep, but when you’re relying on it as part of your sleep routine, then what are you going to do at three in the morning when you wake up?

If you’ve got an issue with your little one falling asleep while you’re feeding, try moving her feed to the start of the bedtime routine and saving stories and bathtime for the end.

  • Not enough daytime sleep

It seems intuitive that, if your baby’s really, really tired, that she’ll sleep better at bedtime. So if she misses a nap, no big deal, right? That should mean she’ll be extra sleepy later on, and will therefore have a better night’s sleep. I’ve actually known parents that tried to prevent their kids from napping during the day so they would hopefully sleep through the night.

This is another reason why I don’t like the idea of parenting solely by intuition. It makes sense, but it’s not what actually happens. Instead, baby gets overtired, and her body starts secreting stress-response hormones, which keep her awake. In short, baby can’t sleep because she’s too tired. So naps! Baby’s gotta take her naps! We need her to be just the right amount of tired at bedtime.

  • Too many bedroom distractions

There are literally thousands of products out there that are designed to make your baby’s nursery a more soothing environment, and to grown-ups, they look effective. A nice cool blue, swirling cloud projector, a glowing night light in the shape of their favorite cartoon character, or a bubbling little aquarium hanging off their crib, might seem relaxing to us, but it’s my experience that babies sleep best in a dark bedroom, free from distractions. A white noise machine is the only exception to this rule that I’ve found.

Parents I’ve worked with in the past have been hesitant to remove these kinds of distractions, typically because they’ve seen a slight (and temporary) improvement after introducing them. “That’s her favorite thing!” they’ll tell me. “She fell asleep in minutes the first night we turned it on!” That may be true, but like so many other things kids get their hands on, they love the novelty of it, and then get bored and move on. And once you’re bored of a star projector or a mobile, and it’s still going when you’re trying to sleep, it just becomes annoying.

  • Not being consistent

“Once in a while…” “If he’s really being difficult…” “Depending on whether or not she’s…”
If you’re hearing yourself saying these types of phrases, back up.

Babies don’t understand special circumstances. All they know is cause and effect, and it only extends back to the last situation. If they wake up and cry, and Mom takes them into her bed for the night, they don’t consider all the times that didn’t happen. They just know it worked last time and, therefore, it should also work next time.

Consistency is tough, I know. Sometimes it just seems like you’ve hit a wall and, in desperation, you decide that you’re going to change things up. But believe me, kids spend about 50% of their time testing their boundaries. (Not an actual, researched statistic. Just an exaggeration.)

As much as they make it seem otherwise, kids thrive on schedules and consistency, so resist the temptation when it strikes. You’ll get better results if you stick to your guns.

Now, having said all of that, I’d like to add that the title of this piece may be a little misleading. You’re probably not doing anything “wrong” per say. These just may be some adjustments you can make in order to get your baby to sleep through the night. If you’re loving, feeding and spending time with your child, then the answer is “You’re doing absolutely everything right.”

If your baby, infant or toddler is having trouble sleeping through the night, help is just a click away! The Sleep Sense Program has helped over 57,00 parents to get their kids sleeping 11-12 hours through the night AND taking long, restful naps during the day. If you’re ready to get started today – I’m looking forward to helping you!

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The Sleep Sense Philosophy

Cry-it-out? Coddle? Co-sleep? Attachment parenting? Ferberizing?
If you’re going to let me help you with something as precious as your child’s sleep, you probably want to know a little bit about who I am and exactly how I think...

Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
just about anything else!
My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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