One of the goals I have when working with a family is to provide education, tools, and understanding when it comes to their baby – especially if their baby is young. One of the first things we do is create a sleep routine that has flexibility. Ultimately, we start with creating a routine around your baby’s feedings. Regular sleep follows regular feeds, so beginning with feeds is the most logical place to start.
While we can’t make a baby sleep, we can begin to implement routines around sleep that will eventually take root. These routines, when done over and over again, cue your baby’s brain to prepare for sleep. While a baby certainly has preferences, and their overall disposition is going to play a part in dictating how easily they sleep and how flexible they are, a sleep routine is definitely something that can be shaped over the long term and will bring fruit if done consistently.
Misconceptions of Creating a Baby Sleep Routine
One of the biggest misconceptions when teaching a young baby to sleep independently is that you’re no longer going to be able to do contact naps, co-sleep, or feed to sleep, but that’s simply not the case. Most babies can be taught to be flexible, and this is done by simply introducing a variety of ways to go to sleep.
For a young baby, this means you are going to practice crib sleeping or sleeping in the bassinet at times of the day that are going to be easiest for them. Typically, this would be the morning, bedtime, and the first stretch of the night. You’re going to have other times when your baby is going to struggle more, which is typically late afternoon and early evening; these are great times to do contact naps.
You can also baby-wear or go for a car or stroller ride. As you do this, your baby is going to get used to sleeping in a variety of ways. As your baby gets older, they will begin to develop preferences for where they sleep and how they sleep.
Crib Sleeping vs. Contact Naps and Co-Sleeping
If you see your baby is resisting crib sleep, that is when you know to work on crib sleep more because this is something that you need your baby to be able to do. If you see that your baby is starting to resist contact naps or starting to resist co-sleeping, then you have to ask yourself, “What is the most sustainable? What feels sustainable to me? Is this sustainable for the long-term?” If your baby only wants to contact nap or only wants to sleep when you’re baby-wearing, then you know you need to be working on crib sleep more. Sometimes, you have to stop one way of sleeping until your baby begins to get comfortable with another way of sleeping. Then, you can reintroduce the contact naps or whatever it is that they were showing preference for. Sometimes, contact napping actually helps with crib sleep, as babies need closeness. If they don’t get their fill of closeness, they may struggle more with going down in the crib or bassinet.
For my moms, who want to co-sleep some of the time but also wants a baby that is going to learn how to independently sleep in the crib, I generally recommend that the best time of night to co-sleep is those very early morning hours (e.g. 4:00 am, 5:00 am, or later). These are times that tend to be harder for babies as their sleep drive is lower. Melatonin is decreasing, and cortisol is increasing as they get closer to waking up in the morning. This can be a great time for a mom who wants to co-sleep some of the time to pull their baby into bed, both being able to get some good sleep as it gets closer to morning.
Why Crib Sleeping Is Typically the Most Sustainable for Your Baby Sleep Routine
As your baby gets older, they may begin to show a preference for crib sleeping. They’re going to figure out that sleeping in the crib just feels better, and you’re going to see that they’re getting better sleep. In the long run, crib sleeping is going to be the most sustainable for most families versus a child who is showing a preference for contact napping or co-sleeping. You can certainly incorporate all of those things and hope that your baby develops the flexibility to go back and forth; however, if your baby is showing a preference for contact napping or co-sleeping and that does not feel sustainable to you, then that may be the time to stop the contact napping or co-sleeping and just crib sleep your baby. You can also put clear boundaries around contact napping so you can still contact nap but do it in a way that is sustainable for you. This might look like one contact nap per day, and the rest are crib naps. Many moms find that the catnap is the easiest time of day to contact nap for a variety of reasons, and that is likely going to be the most sustainable long-term for many families.
Flexibility in a Baby Sleep Routine
Many babies, even as they get older, will crib sleep. They will also be able to do contact naps and go back and forth with ease. I have many babies that can still take a contact nap for the last nap of the day, while the other two or three naps of the day (depending on how old your baby is) are spent crib sleeping.
The end goal is that you are mindful of how you are sleeping your baby, asking yourself the question, “Is this sustainable for the long-term?” and being proactive with how, when, and where your baby is going to sleep. By doing this, you won’t end up in a position down the road where you have to completely undo a habit that is no longer sustainable – one that, had you been mindful earlier on in the process, could have completely been avoided. If you are already there, don’t worry! There is nothing that can’t be fixed! Sleep habits can always be changed, and it’s never too late!
If your baby is already showing preference to a sleep routine that does not feel sustainable to you, now is the time to reach out and get help! We can get your baby back on track with a sleep routine that is sustainable for the long term.