If your baby is 6 months or older and still not sleeping through the night, it’s because you’re not letting them.
That’s not an accusation, by the way, and I’m certainly not suggesting anyone’s a “bad parent.”
But I’ve been a child sleep professional for 12 years, and over that time I’ve identified 5 main ways parents accidentally “sabotage” their children’s sleep.
1. Baby’s falling asleep outside of his crib
I know there’s a certain romance attached to rocking your baby to sleep in your arms, and then laying him gently into his crib. As far as motherhood goes, it’s pretty much the defining visual, but it’s not helpful when it comes to a sustained, rejuvenating sleep.
The problem is that baby’s going to fall asleep in your arms, and then wake up in his crib. As you can well imagine, if you fall asleep in one place and wake up in another, your mind is going to start racing, trying to figure out where you are and how you got there.
This is also a one-two punch, because not only is he awake and agitated, but he’s used to making the journey from awake to asleep in your arms, so he’s going to be calling you in to settle him down in his usual fashion.
2. Entering into negotiations
Kids love, and I mean love, to haggle… especially at bedtime.
Typically, they’ve got nothing to lose by arguing for a later bedtime, and they are never, ever satisfied. One extra story will always lead to a request for one more, and once they’ve successfully negotiated once, watch out. Do yourself and your little one a favor and don’t even open the door to these debates.
I do think you should give your child choices when it comes to bedtime, but stick to “this one or this one” decisions, like:
“Which two stories do you want to hear tonight?” or, “Which pair of PJs do you want to wear?” “Do you want to take your bath now, or after you brush your teeth?” The options you give them should be easy to make, and have no effect on the routine.
3. Altering the bedtime routine
Let’s face it. Motherhood’s exciting enough. It’s not always the fun, exhilarating, night-out-with-the-girls kind of excitement, but it definitely keeps you on your toes.
So although it might feel like you’re stuck in a rut after months upon months of following the same bedtime routine, resist the temptation to change things up.
The bedtime routine isn’t just about getting your little one physically ready for bed. The process signals the brain that bedtime is approaching, and the brain responds by getting ready to shut down for the night.
If you need a change, take your little one to a different park or play some new games, but once you’ve found a working bedtime routine, carve it in stone.
4. Blinging-out baby’s room
I know how charming the idea of an immaculately decorated nursery is. Parenting websites have provided us with endless images of baby bedrooms that look like collaborations between Martha Stewart and Frank Gehry, but I assure you, your baby couldn’t care less about complementary colors and feng shui.
All of those mobiles, aquariums and star projectors are actually more likely to hinder baby’s sleep than they are to help. Lights, noises, and distractions, no matter how soothing they may seem to grown-ups, just fascinate and excite babies. A dark bedroom and a comfortable pair of PJs are the best accessories you can provide.
5. Relying on “sleep props”
I hear a lot of people on my social media channels arguing that babies don’t sleep through the night, and that’s actually true. Neither do adults, for that matter. We all sleep for a while, wake up, then fall back to sleep numerous times a night.
But if your baby will only fall asleep when you rock him, or nurse him, or when he’s got his pacifier, or you’re singing him a lullaby, those are what I call “sleep props.”
The problem is when your baby wakes in the night, you’ve taught him to rely on that “sleep prop” in order to fall asleep. This is why babies cry in the night: It’s the only way they have of letting you know they want their prop… so they can fall back to sleep!