Bedtime Blues

Featured Sliders / Health & Fitness / Lifestyle / Stories / March 7, 2016

baby bedtime

It seems to be a rite of passage for new parents to be sleep-deprived but the nightly struggle putting their newborns to sleep can have serious affects on the entire family.

According to research, mothers whose babies keep them up at night are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression. They’re three times more likely to carry an extra 11 pounds by baby’s first birthday. Dads suffer, too, with ongoing stress. It can impact both parents’ performance at work.

sleep sense

Letitia Sangster and her son, Clay

But this doesn’t have to be the case—help is available. A former teacher, Letitia Sangster is a Sleep Sense consultant located in California, Missouri, who’s trained to help parents of newborns and toddlers develop productive sleeping patterns.

“Babies and toddlers want to sleep and are happier, healthier and more able to learn when they can do so successfully,” she said. “I can help parents develop a plan they can implement together and regain their connection as a couple and a family.”

Sangster offers one-on-one sessions and group seminars to help parents develop a customized sleep plan using The Sleep Sense program, developed in 2013 by Dana Obleman, who based her common sense approach on personal experience with her own three children. Her strategies for overcoming sleep difficulties in infants and young children has been used worldwide by thousands of families.

What made you decide to become a Sleep Sense consultant?

LS:  Sleep Sense was so different from the product pushing and blogging I read about and I could still be a stay-at-home mom. I could help parents just like me live better lives! I am an educator at heart so teaching parents how to help their babies become independent sleepers fit me perfectly. I signed up for one on one training with Dana Obleman, bought a ticket to Florida and started my new career.

What is the Sleep Sense method?

LS:  The two main methods we use at Sleep Sense are “Stay in the Room” or “Leave and Check.” The first is the most gentle approach as it allows parents to be with their child throughout the process. It only takes three nights for most families to see positive results using either method. The crux of the program is flexibility, basing the problem-solving on each individual child and family lifestyle.

Did you have any sleep issues with your son?

LS: Clay was not a great sleeper. He struggled to stay asleep all night and never took long naps. The first three months were really tough! I was convinced I was doing everything wrong. At four months old, I could lay him down awake and he would drift off to sleep on his own! With his independent sleep skills he started to sleep more throughout the night until he reached nine months and everything fell apart. Clay would scream and cry while standing and clinging to the rails of his crib. If I laid him down he would just stand up again. All the positive skills he had learned went out the window because I didn’t know how to help him. I wish I had my Sleep Sense knowledge then. We would have gotten a lot more sleep.

How do you usually work with parents?

LS:  My standard offer is a two week package that can be completed via the Internet or in the home. I send a questionnaire to the parents, and they tell me about their child’s schedule and routine. From this information I create a 10 night custom plan and map out exactly how to handle the bedtime routine, night wakings, mornings and daily naps. I explain the plan during my consultation with the parents, which allows me to address any concerns and questions plus give warnings about problem areas and pitfalls the parents may not expect. Parents usually choose to start on a Friday night so they can handle the most challenging nights without having to work the next day. I communicate regularly by phone and email to answer questions and help track the child’s progress to make sure there are no additional changes required to make the baby a super sleeper. By the end of the 10 night program parents can expect to have an awesome sleeper… or a kiddo who is almost there! Some are more stubborn than others, but more than likely parents will no longer need my support at this point because they can just keep following the plan as their child makes the final adjustments.

Toddlers tend to require a little more time. I do prenatal education too. I can also come to the house and stay with the parents on Night One for half the night or the whole night—I am even available for the first three nights if mom and dad really want serious help. Research shows that 85 percent of infants who are having sleep difficulties continue to do so for three to five years. So the old saying, “They’ll outgrow it,” just isn’t true.

What do you tell parents who can’t stand to hear their baby cry?

LS:  Mother Nature does a great job inspiring parents to protect and nurture their young. The Sleep Sense program is a gentle process while still being realistic. The fact is, we all guard our sleep routines and props because without them falling asleep and staying asleep is not easy for any age. I, like most adults, have become very accustomed to my sleep routine. After putting on my pajamas, I brush my teeth, check the house and straighten the covers on my son. If I leave any of these steps out I won’t sleep peacefully. My sleep prop is a body pillow. Yet when I travel my beloved body pillow is simply too large to pack so I must make do. As adults, we can handle small changes in our routine or props, but babies cry and fight the changes. They are not hurt or feeling mistreated, they are confused and have no other way to express it. If you have always rocked your child to sleep in the past and then stop, the baby doesn’t understand why you stopped and will protest. The same is true of an ever-changing bedtime routine. Children like predictability, so a parent constantly changing and adjusting the routine in hopes of a faster, easier process will actually experience more tears in the long run. It takes about two weeks of repetition before a baby will fully adjust to a new routine. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, they are going to cry. What you can do is streamline the process to make any challenging transition as quick and easy as possible. What surprises parents is the early bedtime. This is what causes the most parent “push back.”

Many families deal with sleep issues with the “family bed.”

LS:  Co-sleeping needs to be a conscious choice by adults who understand the risks. Sharing a bed with your baby puts them at risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and suffocation. Even knowing this, many families become “accidental co-sleepers” when everything else they’ve tried fails. Sleep, gained through co-sleeping, comes at a price. Mom may not want to lay down for every nap but be required to so the baby sleeps. Dad may be squeezed out and end up on the couch. In an effort to keep their child safe and happy, parents wake more frequently to adjust sleep positions, or feed and soothe the baby through restless or fussy times of night. When an infant lacks independent sleep skills, everyone in the family pays with their time and comfort.

Patchwork sleep, a little here, a little there, even if it adds up to eight hours, will not give your body proper rest and recovery. Infants and children tend to be noisy, wiggly sleepers. It’s not easy to sleep through the grunts and tossing! Parents rolling and shifting or snoring make a lot of noise too, which can wake the baby.  It doesn’t take long for the sporadic sleep schedule to affect daily living. Parents try to function with a “short fuse” so they are grouchy and take it out on those around them. Short cuts become a necessity of survival and it shows in work productivity, home life, parenting, self care and personal relationships.

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The Steps Toward Sleep

from Letitia Sangster

Step 1: Choose an Early Bedtime

Keeping your child up late so they will be more tired at bedtime and sleep later in the morning is nonsense. The best time to put your baby or toddler to bed is sometime between 6 and 8 p.m. in the evening. This ensures that your child will be able to get a solid 11-13 hours of sleep during the night. (And yes… that is how much sleep children should be getting every night up until the age of about 10.)

Step 2: Put your Child to Sleep in the Same Place Every Night

Putting your child to bed in a familiar place lets them know they are safe and that they are in a place where sleep is expected of them.

Step 3: Create a Predictable Bedtime Routine

Consistency and predictability are really important to babies and toddlers. When they know what to expect at bedtime, it makes it much easier for them to make the transition from waking to sleeping. A good example of a bedtime routine might be something like this: 6:20 p.m. bath time, 6:35 p.m. put on pajamas, 6:40 p.m. nursing or bottle (NOTE: Do NOT let your child fall asleep while feeding!), 6:55 p.m. story or songs and lastly; put into crib or bed.

The bedtime routine shouldn’t take more than about 45 minutes, and it’s very important that the routine is the same every single night. The repetition and predictability are what let your child know that he or she will soon be expected to fall asleep.

Step 4: Put Baby Down Awake

If you’ve been rocking, nursing, or otherwise soothing your baby to sleep, this is going to seem like a tough one… but it’s actually the most important step! It’s only by letting your baby fall asleep WITHOUT your help at bedtime that he or she can learn the skills necessary to stay asleep through the night.

Step 5: Don’t Intervene Right Away

If your baby wakes up during the night, wait a few minutes before intervening. Everyone—babies and adults alike—will actually wake up several times every night. However, many babies will immediately start to fuss or cry when they wake up. If a baby has been nursed or rocked to sleep since birth, it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t know how to fall asleep independently. The good news is that many babies can figure out how to get back to sleep within just a few minutes of waking up in the night!

If your child continues to fuss or cry for more than a few minutes, you’ll want to go in and offer some comfort, but let your child do the work of falling back to sleep. You can speak softly to your child and do some gentle rubbing or patting, but avoid picking your child up and rocking or nursing back to sleep.

Sleep tips can be found on Sangster’s website and Facebook page.

Story by Shelley Gabert | Sleep tips from Letitia Sangster | photographs by Leah Beane

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