Are you currently feeling frustrated, anxious, incredulous and defeated about your baby or toddler’s sleep?
Have you tried a range of things to help them sleep ‘better’ to no avail?
Are you finding much of your time is clouded by obsessive thoughts about your child’s sleep and your own?
8 Tips For Making Your Peace With Your Baby or Toddler’s Sleep
You aren’t alone. Most parents spend a great deal of time focused on how much sleep their baby or toddler gets.
Well, it’s time to take a step back and try to find some peace of mind about your child’s sleep. Here are 8 tips to help you find some surrender:
#1: Clarify And Re-Clarify Your Expectations Are Realistic
It’s hard to get a handle on what we can realistically expect from our precious little people when it comes to sleep.
This is especially so because we live in a society that, for the last few generation, has utilised and accepted sleep training of infants as the norm.
Baby sleep whisperers and sleep training ‘experts’ are all about the idea you just need to do XYZ and the land of sleep will return. It sounds positively heavenly when you’re in sleep deprived hell.
The idea your baby needs a certain amount of sleep at a certain age to grow and develop normally is purely an emotive one.
The firm belief in sleep as a skill which needs to be taught, with ‘self settling’ at the centre, has lead to a cultural belief that babies and toddlers who wake to nurse frequently are broken and need to be fixed.
The sleepy ideal of the independent baby sleeping alone in their cot for long periods, is an image parents have been sold as normal and necessary.
The reality is – this image isn’t the norm for babies or toddlers.
The first step in being able to let go of what you think your baby should be doing is understanding what biologically normal infant and toddler sleep looks like.
It seems counter to everything you have been told, and can take a massive mindset shift to change this imbedded belief, but the rewards are rich.
Do yourself and your child a favour, research the reality of infant and toddler sleep and review your expectations of what baby and toddler sleep should look like.
The Baby Week by Week can also help you keep a handle on what is likely going on for your baby.
#2: Recognise What Is Within Your Control
You can’t make your baby or toddler sleep.
This is something most parents fail to grasp. They feel they’re doing something wrong if they can’t make their child sleep but the reality is – it’s not within your control.
If it’s something you have been trying to control, take a step back and let it go. Discover what you can do instead:
- Offer opportunities for your child to find sleep.
- Work with their little bodies, personalities and preferences to make finding sleep as easy as possible on any given day.
- Choose to stop trying to get your child off to sleep if it isn’t working with 15 minutes and either of you are getting too frustrated.
- Change the scenery for both of you if everybody is over it and sleep hasn’t been found. Take a walk outside, switch to the carrier or pram, offer more breastfeeding, more stories, make a cuppa while the little one plays a bit longer, pass them to someone else if you can and catch 10 minutes alone.
- Accept that right now, your baby or toddler needs you intensely and their need is real, valid and deserving of your time and compassion.
- Do what you need to get the best quality sleep you can get at this point in time. This may not be in the way you used to sleep before you had children, or even how you were able to get quality sleep with your baby last week. This is time sensitive and allows you to be flexible as your baby grows, develops and their sleep needs and intensity ebb and flow.
- Recognise during intense periods, you will need to reach out for help, support and respite so you can meet your own needs while still meeting your baby’s needs.
#3: Stop Looking At Clocks
Knowing exactly when your baby woke, for how long, how long it’s taking you to fall back to sleep and predicting their next wake up isn’t going to help anyone.
Your very tired body and mind don’t need to be playing middle-of-the-night arithmetic.
These calculations just end up driving you crazy when you’re up with a wakeful baby and cause you to become even more anxious about how much sleep you are missing out on.
You’re less likely to find restful sleep when you do have the opportunity, creating a vicious cycle of sleeplessness.
Simply removing the clock and phone from your bedroom can help your mental state so much.
#4: Refocus Your Energy
You know all that mental and physical energy you are currently exerting trying to work out if your baby or toddler has a sleep ‘problem’?
Refocus that enormous mental and physical load to where it can be actually useful. Accept your baby and toddler’s sleep for what it is and pour that energy into how you can make life enjoyable, authentic and fulfilling, without having to ‘fix’ your child’s sleep.
You can refocus that energy by asking yourself:
- How can you get the best quality sleep for everyone in the family right now?
- What can you do that makes you feel happy and grounded right now?
- How can you nurture your relationships?
#5: Prioritise What Makes You Happy
You may be still thinking the only way you can be happy is to get more sleep, but this isn’t true.
If you are feeling unhappy most of the time or you are unable to enjoy life in general, speak with your GP or trusted health professional and let them know how you are feeling.
Being sleep deprived can bring your mood down, but don’t allow it to mask something else that may be going on, such as postnatal depression (PND). It is possible to make a full recovery from PND while caring for an extremely wakeful baby.
If your mental health is being taken care of, make sure it remains a priority in your life by doing what makes you happy.
Getting out for daily exercise (even light walks), picnics in the sunshine, catch ups with friends, getting your hair done, study, work you are passionate about, hobbies, gardening – find what makes you happy and make sure you build that self-care into your life as frequently as possible.
You might like to read 6 Small Acts Of Self-Care To Avoid Self Destruction and Why Depressed New Mothers Aren’t Crazy, But Society Is.
#6: Find Your Mama Tribe
Becoming a mother can be an incredibly isolating and lonely experience. Even within our own hearts and minds, we can feel lost as we redefine, realign and find our selves as mothers. Having like-minded people to support you can make or break your mothering experience.
Finding like-minded mama souls can create friendships for all time, but even if they don’t end up long-term, these people can see you through for the time you need them.
If you find yourself feeling more isolated, lonely and misunderstood with particular people, you don’t have to push through and force yourself to keep socialising with those who make you feel worse instead of better. Keep looking – your mama tribe is there somewhere.
Some places to meet other mothers include mothers and babies groups (often organised through your local child health service), postnatal exercise groups, breastfeeding association group meet-ups, playgroups, baby rhyme time, swimming lessons, baby wearing groups, etc.
If you still find yourself without the support you need from the real world, online parents groups can offer another source of connection and solidarity.
Sometimes, you may be the one to start a mama tribe of your very own. Look around you – are there mamas out there you know who could do with connection? Help them connect. Be the catalyst.
Surrounding yourself with people you can share this ride with will help you find peace when you need it most.
Check out 6 Ways To Build Your Support Network After Having A Baby for more tips.
#7: Look At Your Child
Really look at your child. Not just the surface, not just a glance, not with a tired sigh of ‘but I see this little face 23 hours a day right now, I am always looking at this child’.
Your child is so much more than their ability or inability to find and maintain sleep.
They are a whole human. Intricate, messy, perfectly imperfect.
They have not come to this life to ruin yours.
Look at that child. Look at their simple beauty and humanity. Their vulnerability and trust.
What makes them smile? What makes them upset? What makes them scared? What helps them relax? What pains are they battling? What are they busy trying to master? How does the outside world see them? How do they see the outside world?
Most importantly – how do you wish to look back on this time with your baby when this time is a distant past and sleep has long since returned?
#8: Value Your Work And Efforts
You mama, you fabulous human, are doing incredibly important work right now.
No, it may not be the kind of work which has you feeling productive or even particularly stimulated, but it is 100% worthwhile and incredibly valuable work nonetheless.
Your baby or toddler is undergoing enormous challenges as they grow and develop at a phenomenal rate. Their busy little bodies and minds are wiring and buzzing, making rest incredibly hard to find and maintain.
Their need for you and your help, your compassion, your time and your commitment is real and legitimate.
Even if you feel you have achieved nothing but baby on any given day, that is more than enough work for one day.
Breathe in, slow your pace, calm your mind.
Melt into that little body so lovingly held and know this is exactly where you are most needed in the world right now.
Hang in there tired mama, this too shall pass.