As new parents there is one thing we strive for more than any other — sleep! You will take it when and where you can get it, as the chronic exhaustion that is delivered along with a beautiful new baby is something many parents, even the second time around, are not prepared for.
In today’s blog, we have partnered with Courtney Zentz, the Founder of Tiny Transitions, to discuss 5 reasons why your baby is not sleeping through the night and what adjustments you can make to support a healthy transition to get them there.
Are they REALLY Hungry?
The most common sleep prop that I see as a barrier to getting a child through the night is that they are waking several times to eat. For many babies, based on their age, intake in the day, and perhaps eating schedule, this may be developmentally appropriate. So let’s start there, with intake.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, infants need 24 - 32 oz of formula or breast milk in a given 24 hour period for optimal health. For a baby who is 3 months old, for example, if they were eating every 3 hours in the day, approximately 4oz of milk at each feeding (7:00 am, 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 7:00 pm) they would have consumed 20oz in the daytime hours. It would make sense, then, because they were below ‘normal’ range, that they would wake to eat overnight.
Let’s look at another example! This time for a 9-month-old, who is eating on a similar schedule plus they have started some solids. As their stomach grows, they can take in a bit more at each sitting. If they are eating every 3 hours in the day, approximately 5oz-6oz of milk at each feeding (7:00 am, 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 7:00 pm) that puts them at within normal range at 25-30oz of milk per day. This, with the addition of perhaps some nutrient-dense eggs for breakfast and some avocado for lunch, means that they are capable of sleeping through the night from a nutrition perspective.
The challenge is that most parents don’t look at milk this way. I often tell my sleep clients that this becomes a want vs. need question. If your child is waking at night for hunger, our role as parents is to meet that basic human need. If they are waking out of habit, and food is the mechanism for them to fall asleep (AKA a sleep prop) then it needs to go. Children sleep through the night when they get within 24oz-32oz of milk during the daytime hours and have the skillset to sleep (without the need to eat in order to fall asleep). If eating is their sleep prop, they will likely wake every time they pass between sleep cycles, because they perceive they “need” it to fall asleep, when in fact they may just “want” it because it is all they know.
Want vs. Need & the Ability to Settle Independently
This leads to my next point! Overnight, does your baby need you? Or just want you? If your little one wakes up every time the pacifier falls out, and you run to them and pop it in, YOU are a mechanism required to get to sleep and that ‘want’ isn’t going away any time soon, because to them, they ‘need’ you to put it in.
You see, sleep is a skillset, and how we teach a baby to fall asleep is how they know to fall asleep and get back to sleep. When there is a misalignment of balance between prop (supported) sleep and independent settling, the baby doesn’t realize that they have the ability to do it without help. Therefore, every time they wake, they are looking for that support to sleep. If you are stuck here, you need to re-align the balance of support vs. unsupported skills and join my next free sleep training seminar kicking off in a few days and learn exactly how to do this.
If your baby is overtired for a nap, it usually makes for a short nap which leads them to go into bedtime overstimulated and this can lead to frequent wakings. You see, sleep begets sleep, so short naps yield a baby who is overtired before bed, which leads to false starts, frequent wakings overnight, early morning wakings, and typically, lots of tears from them and you. The awake window that occurs between sleep (between naps or between naps and bedtime) is so important! While I see many philosophies in the sleep ‘coaching’ world about this, my team of 13 sleep consultants and myself believe in consistency with those awake windows, to balance the sleep hormone adenosine (aka building sleep pressure) and ensure your baby is set up for sleep success without having stimulant hormones trigger if they get into the overtired zone.
Here is a sample of what a day should look like with regards to the balance of naps in the day, to support better overnight sleep:
If your child is getting the right sleep during the day, at the right times, it will set them up for sleep success at night time, causing fewer sleep disturbances overnight. If your child is just struggling with short naps or early wakings but sleeps well overnight, check out our training to help solve those struggles, and use the code slumberpod at checkout to get each for only $17!
Focus on the awake window between sleep periods in the day, try to lay your child down for sleep drowsy but awake so that they can settle themselves, and if they wake from a nap after only 30 minutes, give them 10-12 minutes to try and resettle before rushing in, so they can learn to connect that nap sleep cycle. Remember, naps, when aligned right, can take a few weeks to consolidate, so be patient!
Building a Sleep Sanctuary
I often equate a sleep space to a spa. What’s the first thing you do when you walk into a spa? Take a deep breath and relax. That’s the same feeling you and your child should have in their sleep space. Calm, cool, and dimly-lit for the kickoff of a routine that helps your baby know that sleep is on the horizon. I love the use of blackout shades (not just curtains) and here is a video to prove why (the environment and darkness tell the body it’s time to rest)! I also like the use of a noise machine as it creates a nice background for the baby to rest and helps to buffer against outside noises. I encourage clients to tape over all the little lights in the room, including those on the monitor, the humidifier, etc. Those little lights, all combined, can make a sleep space very bright! Darkness is your best friend with babies (which is also what makes SlumberPod so amazing). I also advise that during the bedtime routine you feed in just a diaper, vs. pajamas, as that can encourage them to take a nice full feed without getting too cozy and falling asleep halfway through! This also gives you time to do a nice book and hold them upright for the milk to digest too!
A Lack of Consistency
… this time I feed, this time I rock, this time I bounce, this time I pick up, this time I don’t …
Inconsistency in what the expectations are around sleep confuses our babies. They are trying to understand when they wake and what to expect. It’s important to balance our baby’s wants vs. needs and give our children consistency in our expectations of sleep. If your baby is hungry, you absolutely feed them, just not “to sleep” - they need to eat because nutritionally they need it, not because they can’t sleep without it. If they have a trapped burp, you pick them up, burp them, and lay them back down, awake. If they poop, you change them and lay them back down, awake.
The support of helping a baby to sleep and then a lack of consistent expectations overnight cause your child, who is passing between sleep cycles, to be confused about the expectations around sleep. They can quickly build a habit that leads to sleep struggles, sleep regressions, and ongoing support needed in order to fall asleep and stay asleep.
No matter which method of sleep training you choose, the most important thing you can do is work with your partner and discuss the plan and then stick to it overnight. Balance the daytime sleep, align your awake windows and be consistent! Sleep training a baby to sleep through the night takes balance and patience.
If you are stuck and need help, the team of Sleep Consultants here at Tiny Transitions work every day with families around the world, offering consulting, coaching, and education, bringing an unmatched level of support to our clients. We also offer free preliminary sleep discovery calls as well, to help you learn more about sleep coaching options and to allow us to discuss your goals and discuss how we can work together to give you the gift of sleep and bring help make you a confident parent.
Courtney Zentz is a Baby Sleep Expert and Founder of Tiny Transitions. Her background as a Pediatric Sleep Specialist, Lactation Counselor, Postpartum Doula, and Sleep Coach to her team of Sleep Consultants around the world provides parents with a solution to their sleep struggles, that is backed by science and balanced with your love and support. If you are struggling with sleep in your home remember, we offer preliminary calls, so you can learn what a Sleep Coach does and how working with us can help you, if that’s the right choice for your family.
The mission at Tiny Transitions is to teach healthy sleep hygiene and parenting education to parents and their babies, toddlers, and young adults who struggle to sleep well. Courtney resides just outside Philadelphia, with her husband Adam and two children, Max and Sovella. She has always felt passionate about making sleep & healthy living a priority in her family's life and Tiny Transitions looks forward to working with you. Her team of Certified Sleep Consultants, the Slumber Squad, offers in-home and virtual consultations, depending on the location. Today, we cover Dallas, TX, Austin, TX, Nashville, TN, Paducah, KY, Long Island, NY, New Jersey, Philadelphia, PA, Tampa, FL, Des Moines, IA, Huntsville, AL, St. Louis, MO, but can travel in the home to support your sleep needs for a fee, based on the work and duration of the stay.
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.