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Signs Your Child May Need “Sleep Training” {aka Parent Training}

August 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

by Mommy MD Guide Nilong Parikh Vyas, MD, MPH

Signs Your Child May Need Sleep Training: A Pediatrician’s Tale

Having a baby was one of the most wonderful, emotionally satisfying and beautiful things that has ever happened to me. After the initial exhilaration wore off and we finally got to take our bundle of joy home, it suddenly hit us: now what do we do? The reality was that – as amazing as it all was – I had no idea what to do. Combine that with the exhaustion from lack of sleep and, well, it was a bit overwhelming. Then came all the well intended advice from friends and family…

“You will be so exhausted but because you love your baby so much, you’ll somehow get through it.”

“You will want to hold that baby in your arms all day, everyday, and never put him down,”

“It’s the best thing that has ever happened to you so just deal with all the hard stuff!”

“You can sleep, shower and eat – when the baby sleeps.”

Granted, some of those things turned out to be true, but for me it was hard. Really, REALLY hard. I was not just physically exhausted but emotionally as well. I loved this baby; I really wanted this baby. I wanted to spend every waking moment with this baby, but wait … did I really? I was beyond tired, and it proved to be much more difficult than I expected. I thought that I was well-qualified for motherhood because I had loved (and was good at) all my baby-sitting jobs growing up. Moreover, I was a trained pediatrician. But I quickly realized that neither the universe nor pediatric residency prepared me for the hardest job of them all: motherhood.

My bundle of joy was 4 months old, super cranky and so was the rest of my family. He was cranky when I held him and even crankier when I put him down. He would fall asleep in my arms, but as soon as I would put him down, he would wake up, cry, and the process would start all over again. I would get him to sleep, walk out of the room, the floorboards would creak and he would be up again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

I had to do something for the sake of my child and my own sanity…

The Solution: Sleep Training (aka Parent Training)

The one common thread through all the books I read on the topic of sleep was that I needed to follow my baby’s cues and let him guide me (instead of the other way around). I had to figure out what he was trying to tell me that I couldn’t hear, couldn’t judge or wasn’t listening to properly. As I watched him more closely, I noticed a pattern emerging. I monitored his sleep cues, as well as his hunger cues, trying my best not to confuse the two. I noticed that when I followed his sleepy cues, he would sleep. When I followed his hunger cues (and fed him only when I saw those), he ate better, which led him to sleep better, which led him to be happier. A less cranky baby led to a less cranky mommy. Common sense, right? But oh so hard to decipher when you’re in the thick of infant sleep deprivation, adjusting to motherhood and possibly returning to work on top of it all.

As I made this change, my son’s sleep cycles and feeding cycles became more predictable and so did my own life. Granted, I had many friends and family that told me they were “anti-schedule.” They said things like, “let the baby decide when he’s hungry and sleepy, and do not put him on a schedule. Let him sleep when he wants to and feed when he wants to.” Was putting him on a “schedule” going against nature and doing something wrong for my baby?

I soon realized that I was indeed following nature (my baby’s cues), and a schedule was emerging on its own, with only a minimal amount of input from me. This wasn’t MY schedule; it was my baby’s schedule. Then, I knew with confidence that I was doing the right thing. Not only did I notice a palpable increase in both mine and my baby’s overall happiness, I also noticed significant jumps in his development. I had the baby that everyone noted “you are so lucky to have such a sweet, happy and alert baby. He is so easy but wait until you have the next one!” Well, guess what? I did have that next one, and I put the same principles into play. And what do you know? I got really lucky. TWICE!!

Note to all: luck had nothing to do with it!

So What Is Involved With Sleep Training?

Many people think that sleep training is harmful to your child, that it involves leaving your child to cry for hours on end and that it’s akin to cruel and unusual punishment. What terrible parent would have a baby just to torment that child into fitting into their lifestyle and schedule? NO ONE!!

Sleep training is not the best term. It should more appropriately be called sleep adjustment, sleep tolerance, sleep associations, or my personal favorite: Parent Training. Just call it anything BUT sleep training. Parent training means that you are training yourself, as a parent, to learn what the baby is trying to tell you. In fact, you don’t have to do any of the hard work: just figure out your baby’s cues, and they will lead you. If you do that, the rest is easy and falls into place. It’s a matter of assessing his/her needs and putting in the necessary steps to fulfill those needs. In the process, he learns to soothe himself. You have to establish routine and consistency, and everyone can at least agree that a child needs that to grow and meet their milestones to reach their full potential.

If a child is not well-rested, it can lead to numerous problems throughout his lifetime. In the short term, sleep deprived children can be slow to meet developmental milestones. Of course kids will ultimately learn to walk, talk, read and write, but it’s more likely to happen readily and without much challenge if the child has had adequate sleep. A well-rested child is emotionally stable, more capable of dealing with the world around her and more willingly redirected. Lastly,a well-rested child yields a well-rested adult, which in turn allows you to be at your best when interacting with your child.

So how do you know if your family may benefit from parent training?

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation?

  • Your child usually cries when you put them down to sleep
  • You have to lay with your baby for them to fall asleep
  • Your child falls asleep every time they are in the car
  • She is difficult to soothe and put to sleep
  • She is a perpetual ‘catnapper’
  • Multiple things have to be done to get her to sleep including continuous rocking, feeding, bouncing, walking, etc
  • Your child will fall asleep when you are holding her and wake moments after she is put down, even when you thought she was ‘fast asleep’
  • She cries even when you are rocking her
  • She takes longer and longer to fall asleep in your arms. This is mostly because children get distrustful when they fall asleep one place and wake up in another. Imagine if you fell asleep on the sofa and ended up in your bed – it would be very confusing for you! For the child, falling asleep in your arms then waking in their crib is more than a little disconcerting
  • If your child has been deemed ‘very active, hyper, can’t stop, always on the go, and doesn’t need much sleep’. Hint: ALL children need sleep and plenty of it

If you said yes to any of the above statements, it’s likely that your child suffers from sleep deprivation. It is one thing if you want to go to sleep with your child at 7:00 pm and want to lay with them in their bed, but if you are doing it because you have to – because it’s the only way they will get to sleep – then it’s a problem.

Every new parent wants to rock their child and have them fall asleep on their chest; that is the most precious feeling in the world. It is an entirely different story when that HAS to be the norm, rather than it being a special occasion. Everyone in the household needs good, quality sleep. Period. End of story. And it’s not great if it only happens occasionally; it NEEDS to happen Every.Single.Night!

If you rock or nurse your child to sleep and they stay asleep through the night, then there is no need to change a thing. If your child is happy, and you are happy, I’m happy. A lot of moms say “my baby only wakes up, feeds and goes right back to sleep, we don’t have any sleep problems at all.” That may be okay for you, and it seems to be okay for the baby. But while she is feeding, her brain is working, telling the organs to start working. The stomach is working, the gut is working … the pancreas, liver and kidneys, all working to process that meal she has in the middle of the night. That means her body is not resting, her organs are not regenerating and healing themselves as they are required to do during sleep. And even though mothers say they are sleeping through their infants nursing all night, there is a part of your brain that is awake throughout the process because you need to know at all times where you are in relation to your baby and where your baby is in relation to you. You are not going into a deep slumber as you should to regenerate yourself. But again, if you are happy and your baby is happy, I’m happy. I am mainly advising that if you wish for your child to sleep through the night and it’s developmentally safe and appropriate, it is indeed possible.

Preventing the Sleep Deprived Child

To prevent a sleep deprived child, parents and caregivers should follow these guidelines:

  • DO put your child to sleep following her natural sleep cues
  • DO put her to sleep drowsy but awake
  • DO maintain consistency and sense of routine as children thrive and depend on this
  • DO what feels right for you and your family and DO trust your gut
  • DO NOT let your baby fall asleep in one place and then move her somewhere else
  • DO NOT turn on TV or engage her at night if she wakes up
  • DO NOT think that this is just a phase and they will eventually become good sleepers. Remember, good sleepers as infants make good sleepers as adults
  • EVERY CHILD CAN AND SHOULD SLEEP WELL
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The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.