When we get down to the heart of the matter, there is a very common question among new parents…and it goes something like this “why won’t my baby sleep through the night?”.
Does this sound familiar? Your baby is regularly waking up sometime during the night. When they do, they start to fuss. They need you to soothe them back to sleep somehow, and the disruptions to everyone’s sleep are leaving the entire family exhausted, baby included.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that there’s a simple ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, or a quick fix to this problem, because, after all, if there was, I’d have to find a new line of work.
What I am going to tell you is that there’s almost always a single cause for a baby or toddler not being able to sleep through the night. It’s the same reason in about 90% of the cases I deal with.
Before we get to that, though, let’s rule a couple of things out.
If your little one is less than six months old, there’s a pretty good chance they might still need a night time feed to get them through the night. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but on average, six months is around the age when you can expect your baby to sleep a good 11-12 hours without eating.
Conditions like reflux or colic, being too hot or too cold, or just being stuck in an uncomfortable position can all lead to a baby waking up at night.
If you suspect that your little one is experiencing some kind of discomfort, you’ll want to address the issue before you attempt to get them sleeping through the night. For any concerns please address these with your GP or maternal health nurse.
If your baby’s comfortable and fed, there’s really only one major reason why they can’t sleep through the night.
Are you ready for the answer as to why your baby is not sleeping through the night?
It’s because your baby does not know how to.
Now I know we’ve all heard people say “Babies will sleep when they’re ready!”. “Sleep is developmental!”. “Just ride it out. It won’t last forever.” I have to admit that I get frustrated when reading these comments like that because…
a) It doesn’t help the situation and
b) It is basically advising people to avoid fixing an issue that can absolutely be fixed.
If someone asked how to get a splinter out of their little one’s foot, would anyone respond with, “Just be patient. It’ll work its way out eventually. “Hang in there mama! You’re doing great!”. I certainly hope not.
(OK, that’s the end of my rant. Back to the good stuff!)
So what do I mean when I say that babies wake up because they don’t know how to sleep through the night?
All of us, babies and adults alike, sleep in cycles.
When we get to the end of a cycle, we’re no longer in a ‘deep’ sleep. We’re hovering right around the point of waking up, and a lot of the time, we do wake up.
Us adults have so much experience falling asleep. Usually we can look at the clock, realise the time and hopefully roll over and go right back to sleep (if our brains aren’t running at a million miles an hour thinking of all the things we need to do the next day of course!).
Babies haven’t had nearly as much practice. Very often, they get a lot of help when it’s time for a sleep. They get cuddled, rocked, taken for car rides, pushed in the pram and/or fed to sleep.
So when your baby wakes after a sleep cycle, they can’t get back to sleep again without that extra help. Mum or Dad need to get up and repeat whatever process baby’s accustomed to.
That’s the issue, and like I say, it’s the issue with about 90% of the babies I work with.
How do you address that issue?
Well, that’s where things get tricky. The solution varies tremendously depending on the baby and their parent’s compatibility with various approaches to resolving the problem.
The crux of it is this however. Giving baby practice to fall asleep, and fall back asleep, independently (free from any external assistance) will change the situation. Baby will continue to wake through the night, as we all naturally do, however baby will be able to go back to sleep independently, easily, and with no fuss. Game changer.
So when you hear someone saying that babies don’t sleep through the night, or that it’s natural for them to wake up several times, that’s absolutely correct.
When they tell you that all you can do is wait it out, that’s absurd. You can absolutely teach your little one the skills they need to sleep through the night, and I’d love to show you how.