Let’s be real here. When we get right down to the heart of the matter, this is the question you really need an answer to, am I right?
Your baby is regularly waking up sometime during the night, and when they do, they start to fuss, they need you to soothe them back to sleep somehow, and the disruptions to everyone’s sleep are leaving the entire family exhausted, baby included.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that there’s a simple “one-size-fits-all” solution to this problem, because, after all, if there was, I’d have to find a new line of work.
But I am going to tell you that there’s almost always a single cause for a baby or toddler not being able to sleep through the night, and it’s the same reason in about 90% of the cases I deal with.
Before we get to that, though, let’s rule a couple of things out.
- If your little one is less than six months old, there’s a pretty good chance they might still need a nighttime feed to get them through the night. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but on average, six months is around the age when you can expect your baby to sleep a good 11-12 hours without eating.
- Conditions like acid reflux or indigestion, being too hot or too cold, or just being stuck in an uncomfortable position can all lead to baby waking up at night. If you suspect that your little one is experiencing some kind of discomfort, you’ll want to address the issue before you attempt to get them sleeping through the night.
And that, I’m happy to tell you, pretty much sums it up. If your baby’s comfortable and fed, there’s really only one major reason why they can’t sleep through the night.
Are you ready for it?
It’s because they don’t know how.
Now I know we’ve all heard the sound bites and talking points on social media. “Babies will sleep when they’re ready!” “Sleep is developmental!” “Just ride it out. It won’t last forever.” and so on. I have to admit to a little low-key rage whenever I read comments like that because…
a) It doesn’t help and
b) It tells people to avoid fixing an issue that absolutely can and should be fixed!
If someone asked how to get a sliver out of their little one’s foot, would anyone respond with, “Just be patient. It’ll work its way out eventually. Hang in there mama! You’re doing great!” I certainly hope not, although given some of the comments I’ve seen on social media, I wouldn’t say it’s out of the realm of possibility.
(OK, that’s the end of my rant. Back to the good stuff!)
So what do I mean when I say that babies wake up because they don’t know how to sleep through the night?
All of us, babies and adults alike, sleep in cycles. When we get to the end of a cycle, we’re no longer in a “deep” sleep. We’re hovering right around the point of waking up, and a lot of the time, we do wake up. Us adults have so much experience falling asleep, we can usually just look at the clock, realise we’ve still got a few more delicious hours before our alarm goes off, and we close our eyes, maybe roll over onto our other side, and go right back to sleep.
Babies haven’t had nearly as much practice, and very often, I mean VERY often, they get a bunch of help when it’s time for a snooze. They get bounced, shushed, cuddled, rocked, serenaded, taken for car rides, rolled around in their stroller, or fed to sleep.
So when they wake up after a sleep cycle, which again, is going to happen regularly for their entire lives, they can’t get back to sleep again without that extra help, so mom or dad needs to get up and repeat whatever process baby’s accustomed to. That’s the issue, and like I say, it’s the issue with about 90% of the babies I work with.
How do you address that issue?
Well, that’s where things get tricky because the solution varies tremendously depending on the baby and their parent's compatibility with various approaches to resolving the problem, but the cause is almost a dependency on some form of sleep assistance from a caregiver.
So when you hear someone saying that babies don’t sleep through the night, or that it’s natural for them to wake up several times, that’s absolutely correct.
When they tell you that all you can do is wait it out, that’s absurd.
You can absolutely teach your little one the skills they need to sleep through the night, and I’d be delighted to show you how.