Is There Really An Issue With Sleep Training?

Good afternoon and happy Friday! =D

If you are a parent who strongly agrees with nighttime parenting or sleep training, then this proposal is for you.

As I was driving home from my son’s most recent doctors visit, I was overwhelmed with so many emotions after his pediatrician told me that I should consider sleep training my baby. At first, my thoughts revolved around the notion that sleep training contradicts my beliefs on nighttime parenting; but after much reflection, I found that notion to be false. Lets define the purpose of nighttime parenting and sleep training.

Nighttime Parenting: Parenting a child by engaging in any activity that the child needs for him to build enough security to fall asleep.

Sleep TrainingTeaching your child the skills needed to sooth himself to sleep.

I completely agree with both of these definitions; and if I agree, then why is it that I have rejected sleep training? Well, what I have come to realize is that I have not rejected sleep training; but rather the current commonly used sleep training methods available. The methods that I have encountered:

  1. contradict my intuitive responses.
  2.  are not individualized to my baby’s needs.
  3. often do not consider teethingseparation anxiety and developmental milestones.
  4.  do not regard nighttime parenting as essential. Many babies need to be parented to sleep and parented back to sleep.

The goal of sleep training is to teach children the skills required to successfully self-sooth; and helping them learn these skills involves nighttime parenting, time, patience, practice, and trial and error. This is why I am proposing a new option that combines nighttime parenting and sleep training; what I have named the Individualized Nighttime Parenting Sleep Training Guidelines. Thus far, I have not encountered any sleep training program that offers suggestions on how to help parents create an individualized sleep training program for their child. As an early childhood educator, to ensure that every student succeeds academically, teachers must individualize lesson plans based on two very important considerations: the skills that each child has already mastered; and the best way to foster each child’s strengths and needs. The same principles should apply to sleep training. The sleep training methods currently available will be successful when using them for children who have a specific type of temperament; but there is a whole population of children who are not accommodated for. If you are looking for another option, follow the Individualized Nighttime Parenting Sleep Training Guidelines below.

Before creating a Individualized Nighttime Parenting Sleep Training Program:

  1. Set realistic expectations for your child. This program is not meant to be a quick solution. This is a gradual process based on a program that caregivers will design to meet the needs of their child. Remember to be flexible; remain patient; smile; stay positive; and praise even the smallest progress.
  2. The goal is to teach children the skills needed to self sooth. 
  3. Nighttime parenting is required.
  4. Answer the following questions:
    • What is your child’s temperament? (i.e. easy going? strong-willed?)
    • Is your child able to communicate when he is hungry, has a soiled diaper, or needs comfort?
    • What self soothing skills has your child mastered? (i.e. sucking on fingers? sucking on toes? placing pacifier in own mouth?)
      • if the child has mastered self soothing skills, do these actions actually sooth the baby?
    • How is your child currently soothed to sleep? (i.e. breastfeeding? bottle? rocking? singing?)
      • What are his sleep associations?
    • Where does your child currently sleep? (i.e. crib? co-sleeping?)
    • How does your child react when he is placed in the crib? (i.e. happy? reluctant?)
    • Do you have a nighttime routine in place?
    • Is your child ready for sleep training?
      • How do you know?
    • Is your child teething?
    • Is your child about to reach any developmental milestones?
    • Is your child experiencing separation anxiety?
    • Any other considerations about your child before sleep training?
    • What is the end goal for your child? (i.e. sleep in crib all night? sleep in crib half the night?)
  5. Revisit and reflect on the answers to these questions daily to note and address any changes. 

Creating an Individualized Nighttime Parenting Sleep Training Program:

  1. Establish a bedtime routineA calm and predictable bedtime routine helps children transition into a sleepy state.
  2. Help the child create positive associations with the crib. This may take time. Place your child in the crib and immediately provide verbal praise. Then partake in a reinforcing activity such as reading a book or engaging in fun social interactions. Do the activity for as long as the child will tolerate it. The goal is to gradually increase the time spent in the crib until the child intrinsically enjoys it. If the child spends only a second in the crib today; aim for a second a half tomorrow.
  3. Determine whether your child is ready for sleep training. After the bedtime routine is established and the positive associations have been created with the crib, determine whether your child is developmentally ready for sleep training by reflecting on your answers to the above questions.
  4. Transfer or establish positive sleep associations. If a child is accustomed to sleep associations involving parental support such as nursing or rocking, then these dependent sleep associations need to be slowly replaced with other sleep associations independent from you. When deciding what type of sleep associations to replace established ones with; ask yourself “how is my child currently soothed to sleep?” This will help guide you when choosing new associations. For example, if you decide to replace nursing with a security item, such as a blanket or a toy, then this blanket or toy needs to be used during every nursing session until the child associates the item with the nursing experience.This process will take time and will involve trial and error. Just remember to work on replacing one sleep association at a time.
  5. Slowly Fade Away. After the new sleep associations are successfully created and the child has developed a positive association with the crib, it is time to slowly fade your presence. This will also take time.
  6. Give your child the support he needs. Even if your child has made progress, expect there to be nights when he needs extra nighttime parenting. Do not do the program when your child is about to reach a developmental milestone or on nights that your child is experiencing teething pain, separation anxiety, or insecurities; rather, focus on providing your child with the comfort that you are fully present when he needs you.
  7. Provide lots of positive verbal and physical reinforcement. Make the nighttime routine a positive experience to encourage the development of a positive attitude towards transitioning into a sleep state and staying asleep.

If you strongly agree with nighttime parenting or sleep training and have not yet discovered a sleep training method that works for you; follow these guidelines to create a successful Individualized Nighttime Parenting Sleep Training Program for your child.

Thank you for reading! I hope you have a happy Friday! =D

An Alternative to Sleep Training

Good afternoon and happy Sunday! In my most recent post, I discussed some of the reasons why my son may be awakening so frequently throughout the night. The two most common approaches that are used to address babies who awaken frequently throughout the night are sleep training and nighttime parenting. As a mother to a 9 month old boy, I accepted that the  sleep training methods that are currently available, which are effective for some babies, would not be beneficial for my son. Nighttime parenting addresses the individual needs of my son as well as fosters my maternal intuitive responses. As an advocate for breastfeeding nighttime parenting values the benefit of nursing for comfort. Here is my approach:

1. I respond to him when he cries. Nonverbal babies cry as a way to signal that they want or need their caregivers. The benefits of responding are:

  • the baby develops security that his caregivers will always come when he needs them.
  • a baby’s cry stimulates a hormone called prolactin in the mother. This hormone sends a biological response to the mother to pick up and nurse (for nutrition or comfort) her baby.

2. I parent him back to sleep. After I respond to him, I determine what support he needs to go back to sleep. I support him by nursing him, rocking him, holding him, wearing him, singing to him, or co-sleeping with him. The benefits of parenting him back to sleep are:

3. I enjoy the extra time that I have with him. These frequent nighttime awakenings are temporary. Sooner than later, he will no longer require my support to parent him back to sleep; at least to this extent. While I have the opportunity, I am embracing every moment that I have with him.

Nighttime parenting supports my maternal intuitive responses; it considers that physical and developmental factors (such as teethingdevelopmental milestones, and separation anxiety) may be contributing to the frequency of his awakenings; and the flexibility of this method allows me to individualize support based on my son’s needs. I find that using this approach truly makes nighttime parenting a wonderful experience.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a happy Sunday! =D

Baby Not Sleeping Through the Night? These May Be the Reasons Why.

Good afternoon and happy Friday! As a mother to a 9 month old, I have become happily accustomed to sleepless nights. My son consistently falls asleep around 7:00 pm and awakes around 6:30 am, but he requires nighttime parenting to fall asleep and to stay asleep. After he falls asleep, he wakes up every hour and half to two hours throughout the night. What is causing him to wake up so often? Since he does not have an underlying medical issue, here are the possible physical and developmental reasons for his frequent awakenings:

  1. Teething. My son has been teething since he was 3 months old, and he is still teething. Signs of teething include excessive drool and fussiness. There are over the counter pain relievers such as Orajel and Highlands Teething Tablets; but I have chosen not to give them to my son. Orajel contains benzocaine which is a numbing agent that could cause serious complications; and I discontinued using Highlands Teething Tablets after they were recalled by the FDA on September 30th, 2016.
  2. Separation Anxiety. At 3 months old, my son began exhibiting signs of separation anxiety. Our pediatrician confirmed that separation anxiety can begin as early as 3 months and will peak around 8 months–which was right on target!
  3. Developmental Milestones. At 3 months, my son began trying to sit up. Soon after, he began to practice rolling over, sitting up, crawling, kneeling, etc.  Babies practice new skills even in their sleep, causing them to wake up frequently.

Since my son was born, I have come across many sleep training websites. After reading through them, they all agree that there are two main reasons why babies do not fall asleep on their own and why do not stay asleep throughout the night. The first reason is because of a baby’s inability to self sooth; and the second reason is because of a baby’s dependency on negative sleep associations. Here are my issues with sleep training:

  1. They may contradict a mother’s intuitive responses.
  2. They are not individualized to each baby’s needs.
  3. Teething, separation anxiety and developmental milestones are not considered.
  4. For many babies, nighttime parenting is essential. Many babies need to be parented to sleep and parented back to sleep.

If there are no underlying medical issues; teething, separation anxiety, and developmental milestones may be some of the reasons contributing to a baby’s frequent nighttime awakenings.

I would love for you to comment and share how you approach frequent nighttime awakenings =D

Thank you for reading! I hope you have a happy Friday =D

Dear First Time Breastfeeding Mama

Good afternoon and happy Wednesday! Over the last 4 months, Breastfeeding has been one of the most wonderful experiences of mamahood. When Paul was 2 months old, I finally let go of the way I thought breastfeeding was suppose to be and embraced the reality of what it actually was. Mamas, here is my advice (based on personal experience) if you are planning to breastfeed.

Be flexibleWhen I first imagined breastfeeding, I thought Paul would eventually adapt to a set feeding pattern, but that was not the case. I learned very quickly to follow his cues. Babies will instinctually feed more when their mama is not producing enough milk or when they are going through a growth spurt. The only way to increase their mamas milk supply is by sucking. Paul has always been a baby who cluster feeds. At 4 months, he eats every hour to hour and a half. His cluster feeding was most intense when he had his posterior tongue and lip tie; at times, he would feed for up to 4 hours in one sitting. Click here to read more about how Paul’s tongue and lip tie impacted breastfeeding.

Appreciate yourself for what you are able to do. Sometimes, things do not go as anticipated. For the first 2 months, my milk supply was insufficient due to Paul’s tongue and lip tie. Until my milk supply increased, we had to supplement at least one bottle a day with formula. I felt very guilty that I did not have enough milk supply to feed him around the clock, but I realized if your supply is low, feed your baby what you can and appreciate what you are able to give him rather than focusing on what you can’t. What’s important is that he is fed, regardless of whether it’s breast milk or formula.

The most efficient and effective way to increase milk supply is by having your baby suck. The more milk your baby demands the more supply you will have. Pump after feedings to ensure that you get as much milk out as possible. If you supplement with formula, pump while your baby is eating or soon after to stimulate your milk production.

It is also important to pump after as many feedings as possible if your body produces too much milk. If your baby is not emptying out your breasts, there is a risk a mastitis.

Relax and enjoy these moments. At times, breastfeeding may become frustrating when you don’t have any time to do anything else. Chores are left undone, and time to yourself is scarse. If possible, ask and accept help for chores. Breastfeeding is a job; you will need to both try to rest and try to eat nutritionally as much as possible.

I found that by being flexible, appreciating myself for what I am able to do, and relaxing and enjoying these moments truly make breastfeeding a wonderful experience. Thank you for reading! I hope you have a very happy Wednesday!