As a Baby-Led Sleep & Wellbeing Specialist, mums who are looking to get more sleep (without sleep training), often ask me what my hot tips are for baby sleep. I’m not a sleep trainer, so my tips might look different than the mainstream narrative.
I’m here to shake up the current sleep culture and help you optimise your little one’s sleep, without compromising your connection. So without further ado, here are my top 5 tips for baby sleep.
Understand biologically normal infant sleep & set realistic expectations
There is a BIG gap between what mainstream sleep training culture tells us about how our baby “should” be sleeping and what our baby actually does. By taking a step back from the advice that doesn’t seem to fit your little one, you will see that they are a unique human who is not meant to fit into a predetermined box.
If you can understand how sleep works and what it is that babies actually do biologically, you can then find ways to support your little one that feel right for your family. When we know that night wakes are normal and we can expect them even into toddlerhood, we can find solutions to supporting sleep which are sustainable and work with your baby’s biology, rather than fighting against it. Knowing what is normal can also help us see when something may not be quite right and impacting your little one’s sleep and then we can address the root cause of that.
With the Baby-Led sleep approach, I know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sleep and I support you to tune into your unique baby so that you can simultaneously support their sleep and their attachment relationships. It is this understanding of sleep biology and my tailored approach that also helps us work together to troubleshoot sleep problems such as early rising, false starts, split nights and bedtime battles. When you understand normal baby sleep you are able to demystify it and that in itself significantly reduces stress and can prevent you worrying about your little one’s sleep.
Ditch the tracking apps & tune into your baby
In a tech-driven world, we are sold apps and books that tell us what our babies need to be doing, which creates a deeper disconnect and tempts us to rely on the knowledge of someone else. An understanding of wake windows (alongside knowledge of sleep science) are helpful as a guide, but don’t replace attunement to your child and their unique sleep cues and sleep requirements.
Stop looking at the clock and don’t follow that sleep schedule that you downloaded from the internet – I’ve been there and no matter how much I studied that schedule, my baby would not follow it! You do not need to track sleep to find your baby’s sleep rhythm – slow down, observe your little one and you’ll see that together you both have all the answers you need.
Create loving routines and calm sleep environments
Human brains (and particularly those of infants) are designed to look for patterns and this helps them to make sense of the world and what their days look like. Creating routines or rituals that are filled with love and connection can help cue your baby in for sleep and produce sleepy hormones for both naps and bedtime. They do not have to be prolonged or elaborate and definitely do not have to be tied to a certain time, but you get to choose what works for your family.
A pre-nap ritual may be as simple as a song, snuggle and breastfeed to sleep, while a bedtime routine may be a bit longer and involve bath, massage, books, song, snuggle and breastfeed to sleep. Experiment with what works for your baby and what you enjoy doing, ensuring that you are calm throughout the routine.
Support your baby’s sleep
“How do I put my baby to sleep?” – whatever way works for you! The main thing you need to know is that there are no bad habits or negative sleep associations – babies need our support to get to sleep and there is nothing wrong with them (or us!) if they can’t fall asleep on their own.
Breastfeeding to sleep is usually an infant’s first preference and it is the biological norm, so if it is working for you, use this fabulous parenting tool! Most babies also love motion to fall asleep, whether that’s rocking, bouncing on a ball, with baby wearing, or a walk in the pram.
There is this big myth perpetuated by sleep training culture that babies need to learn how to go to sleep independently and need to be taught to self-settle, so you’ve probably tried to put your baby down drowsy, but awake, and more than likely it didn’t work and they didn’t peacefully drift off to sleep. Babies and toddlers are meant to need responsive caregivers day and night and should not be expected to self-soothe or fall asleep independently – they will learn to self-regulate over time, by first being given many opportunities to co-regulate with a loving caregiver.
Cultivate a self-care practice
It’s hard work caring for a baby and you cannot fill from an empty cup. There are phases where sleep is quite challenging and you will be extra sleep deprived, so when you know to expect this you can bring in your support network and up your self-care to support yourself through these tougher times.
Call on your village and outsource daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, so that you can rest wherever possible. Create a self-care practice for yourself that is simple, sustainable & nourishing and know that you do not have to be away from your child to have your needs met. Self-care does not have to look like going to the day spa and the best starting point is meeting your basic needs – hydration, good food and deep breathing are simple building blocks of taking care of yourself.
A final and important note – your baby’s sleep is not a reflection of your parenting ability – you’re doing an amazing job.
Do you want to learn more about biologically normal infant sleep and uncovering ways to get your family more sleep, but without ever sleep training? Come along and follow me on Instagram where I share tips about baby and toddler sleep in a way that challenges the current infant sleep space and helps you parent instinctively. You can work with me 1:1 for lovingly tailored sleep support, or join my monthly sleep & motherhood membership filled with invaluable information as well as a beautiful community of like-minded mums who have your back.