Welcome to Guest Post by Corinna who runs The Mummy Circle in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, offering Baby Massage and Yoga classes, and bespoke Gentle Sleep Support for families with children from 6 months upwards.
The phrase ‘sleep training’ has negative connotations of letting your baby ‘cry it out’, and some people get to a stage of breaking point where they feel this is the only option. I try to work with families before they get to that stage, as I will never recommend leaving your baby to cry alone. My methods are gentle, and holistic, looking at the wider picture and including the whole family.
An infant’s sleep cycle matures at some point during the first six months of life, and it often happens at around four months old, commonly referred to as the dreaded ‘4 month sleep regression’. In actual fact, this stage is nothing to do with regressing. It is the baby’s brain rapidly developing, with lots of new neural connections being formed. For some babies this lasts less than a week, and for some babies, it seems to turn the whole family’s life upside down! What we sometimes seem to forget, is that like adults, babies are individuals, and they have their own unique personalities and temperaments. Adults react differently to different situations in life, so why shouldn’t babies?
By six months old, babies have generally consolidated daytime sleep into morning, lunchtime and afternoon naps. The most helpful thing you can do is to keep a close eye on your baby and watch for any cues that your baby is getting tired. As with everything, this all depends on the individual baby, but common early signs of tiredness are rubbing their face or eyes, staring blankly, turning their face away, and not wanting to interact. If you can encourage your baby to drift off to sleep at this point before they get to the late stages of tiredness, ie crying and arching their back, so much the better.
One way you can start to put a routine into place is by using sleep cues for every daytime and night-time sleep. Choose a word, a phrase, a little song, or a particular massage such as stroking the nose, and repeat this over and over while your baby is going to sleep. In time, your baby will come to associate that cue with drifting off to sleep, and managing naps should become easier. As with everything to do with babies and children, consistency is absolutely crucial.
Many parents find that their baby has frequent wake-ups before midnight, and if this is the case, it is often to do with over-tiredness. Daytime naps need to be reassessed, as well as food and fluid intake, which play a major role in night-time sleep. If babies are continually waking after midnight, this is often to do with an environmental factor. It could be that they have become too cold, or an external noise is waking them, and so on.