Here’s How to Help Your Child Sleep (No Sleep Training Required!)

Photography: Victoria Gloria Photography

By Tracy Gillett

Is there a topic that occupies us more as new parents than how to get our children to sleep longer? Faster? Or earlier?

The craving to maximize the number of quiet night time moments we can spend recharging ourselves and our relationships unites us all. Because parenthood tests us like nothing else. At the end of a long day, we desperately need some me time.

The days are long, but the years are short. – Gretchen Rubin

But, this longing is easily taken advantage of by non-responsive sleep trainers; promising quick fixes to sleep-challenged parents and selling sleep as if it is a commodity we can simply buy for our babies.

At a new mama’s talk I recently gave, a mother of a happy, perfectly normal four-month-old baby, asked what would happen if she didn’t sleep train? She wondered if it was better to do it now and get it over with, as if it was an inevitable ingredient of babyhood. Because this is the message new mothers are given, time and again.

Questions like, is he a good baby or is she sleeping through the night, serve to do nothing more than derail parents who are bravely and selflessly doing a phenomenal job at being the night time parent their baby needs.

The real issue that must be addressed is the unwillingness of society to accept the fact the babies are not designed to sleep through the night.

We resist and I wonder if it may be because, if we accepted an inconvenient truth, we’d feel compelled to actually help and support new families in the way they need, rather than in the way that’s easiest for us.

With that in mind, here are a handful of ways to help babies sleep in the way in which they are biologically designed to do. To help you block the white noise of society so you can trust ancient wisdom and see your child for who they truly are – not a sleep stealer, but a new soul who simply needs you, day and night.

1. Take Advantage of Natural Remedies

Sleep is more a state of being rather than a skill that can be learned. When the conditions are right sleep easily overcomes our babies, taking them to a restful place where their minds and bodies can grow and rejuvenate. Here are a few natural methods and remedies that can help make the process of falling to sleep a little easier:

Regulate the temperature: Melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep, naturally increases as core body temperature drops, thus triggering sleep. Research shows that babies (and adults) sleep best when the room temperature is between 68-70F or 20-21C. A lower room temperature is protective against SIDS.

So, open a window and welcome fresh air, dial the central heating back a notch and cool your bedroom as part of your baby’s bedtime rhythm. But, remember, this doesn’t mean your baby should be cold! It’s important to make sure that babies stay warm throughout the night. My son was, and still is, a ninja when it comes to kicking off the covers so as a baby we used superfine merino pajamas and sleep sacks – I can’t recommend them highly enough!

Tart Cherry Juice: this tip is more for toddlers and children rather than babies. Tart cherries contain naturally occurring melatonin which has been shown to improve sleep. The ruby red color is due to proanthocyanidins, which can help increase the availability of tryptophan, an important precursor to serotonin, which also encourages sleep.

The juice is also shown to inhibit an enzyme – indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase – that degrades tryptophan, a known predictor of insomnia. You can find tart cherry juice here and this is a super helpful article by Genevieve of Mama Natural for some practical tips on recipes for giving tart cherry juice to kids.

A touch of lavender: Lavender is well known for its ability to relieve anxiety, soothe restlessness and aid sleep. But, essential oils need to be used with care, especially with babies and young children and should NEVER be given orally.

For babies and young children, adding a couple of drops of lavender to an oil diffuser when you start your bedtime routine can be a great idea to ease into relaxation. Make sure to find a pure, therapeutic grade oil.

2. Listen to Nobody But Your Baby and Breastfeed to Sleep

As a new mother, I remember searching online (ironically after my son had nursed to sleep) about whether breastfeeding to sleep was a “bad” sleep association. I’d find countless articles condemning the practice; the claim being that babies must be put down “drowsy but awake”. Some “experts” went so far as to suggest that if a baby fell asleep at the breast, to wake him up and then expect him to fall asleep on his own.

Having nursed my son to sleep over five thousand times (and counting) I can honestly say that nursing is the most natural, relaxing and instinctive way to help our babies find sleep. It is normal, healthy and developmentally appropriate. It is a superpower that Mother Nature gave us to help our babies sleep.

Why we would consider squandering this or making our lives more difficult than they need to be is simply beyond me.

The truth is that breastfeeding and sleep go hand in hand. The sucking action of breastfeeding releases the hormone cholecystokinin, which results in feelings of sleepiness in both mother and baby. This is often misinterpreted as being physically draining for a mother, but it is in fact Mother Nature’s way of ensuring new mothers get the sleep they need too (rather than getting up to clean the house!).

Babies also don’t make their own melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone) for much of their early life. But, nature is clever and guess what has plenty of melatonin in it? Your nighttime breastmilk. It naturally helps babies develop their own circadian rhythm.

There are countless reasons, backed by science, that demonstrate that nursing to sleep and throughout the night is what nature intended. So, nurse your baby to sleep mama and enjoy every moment.

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