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Sleep Regressions: Making a Plan

As a postpartum doula, I talk a lot about infant sleep to new parents. You see, what sleep trainers and veteran moms don't tell you, is that infant sleep is fluid and ever changing. That's right. You can "train" your baby to fall asleep on their own, self soothe and wake up at the right time - but not always. A while back I wrote a blog about sleep regressions, and if you haven't read it yet, it's a great place to start.

Now, once you understand why sleep regressions happen, you'll want to know how to survive them. In the first year of a baby's life, they learn, develop and grow SO quickly. That means that just as you teach them to self soothe, they learn how to stand up in their crib. This makes creating healthy sleep habits and sticking to them very tricky. I'm going to use the 3-4 month sleep regression as an example, but these tricks can be applied to all ages.


1. Overtired :

For the first 3-6 weeks of a baby' life, most parents are in what I call "survival mode." This means that baby is often sleeping where-ever and whenever they drift off. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with this, and is often encouraged to my clients. Realistically, your baby doesn't know the difference between daytime and nighttime and is generally only awake for short spurts (20 mins or so). At 6 weeks postpartum, you will want to start implementing healthy sleep hygiene habits which will include a nap schedule. The picture to the right is not my own but it is the one that I use with my clients. It is important that your baby is not "overtired." This means following the "time between naps" section on the diagram. You will notice that a 6 week old to 3 month old baby should only be awake for 1 hour to 1 hour 45 mins. Approximately 15 mins before this time (or when your baby is giving you sleepy cues), you should start their nap time routine. By missing this window, your baby may get a "second wind" and be awake for another 60 mins. Now, you might assume that a REALLY tired baby would fall asleep easily, but it is quite the opposite. With infants, SLEEP = MORE SLEEP. This means that a baby that is well rested during the day, will likely have a better overnight sleep. The opposite is also true; a baby that misses their nap or only naps for 20 mins or less will likely have a poor overnight sleep.

The most important point: during a sleep regression, getting your baby to sleep (for an appropriate amount of time) is key. Because they are more likely to wake between sleep cycles during this time, consider baby wearing for a particularly difficult nap or try to soothe baby back to sleep after their initial wake up.

2. Sleepy but not asleep:

During a sleep regression, it is helpful if you continue to practice good sleep hygiene (or start implementing it). The key to getting baby's to sleep longer, is to get them to fall asleep on their own! Start by making your baby "sleepy but not asleep." You know what to look for: long blinks, eyes slowly closing, laying their head on your shoulder and slow sucks at the breast or bottle. BUT! Before your baby falls asleep, lay them in their sleep space. This spot should be dark or dim and perhaps have a sound machine to block out extra noise. Slowly lower your baby into their sleep space while keeping a firm hand on their chest. Making loud shushing noises, rock your baby gently or rub their stomach. If your baby does not settle, lift them up and soothe them again until they are sleepy.

3. Routine:

During a sleep regression, it is important that you keep their normal bedtime routine. Before a nap, try this:

- change diaper

- put sleep sack on

- turn on sound machine

- breast or bottle feed until drowsy

- lay in crib

Simply following this routine before every nap will create cues that your baby will eventually recognize. For example, one family that I worked with has noticed that every time they turn on the sound machine, their baby yawns and rubs their eyes.

4. Open to change:

This one is important. Sleep schedules and routines ebb and flow.

What things might change?: How you get your baby sleepy, the duration of their nap, how many naps they have per day and how many times they wake up at night to name a few.

Why? Well, every time your baby has a growth spurt, learns a new skill, gets a cold or goes through a change - you might see their sleep hygiene change and or/regress. Being consistent and relying on routine will help get them back on track. The main point though, be open to change. Be flexible and understanding, remembering that even you sleep differently depending on your day, stress, health etc.

Parenting is exhausting, and so is putting proper sleep hygiene into place. Your postpartum doulas at The Doula Tree are here to support your parenting style AND the individual needs of your baby. Providing premier doula services in Norfolk County, Haldimand County, Brant County & Oxford County. Click HERE for more information on postpartum support.

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