As you may know by now, we have 5 boys between the two of us. Our oldest boys are only a couple of months apart, so we’re both coming up on 7 years in our parenting journeys and we want to share with you today one piece of advice that we have found to be very helpful time and time again.
So here it is: meet your child where they are at while embracing (and celebrating!) who they are.
Let’s talk this through a bit more so we can explain what we really mean and how it applies to sleep. We’re going to take you three steps to help you meet your child where they are at and embrace what makes them unique, so that you can best support them in the way they need.
Step One: Use Guidelines (as a guide!)
There is SO much information out there about baby sleep. Let’s take wake windows for example. We can easily look up what your baby should be able to do in terms of wake times between naps and before bed. While these are generic and age based numbers, sleep science does hold an important place when it comes to supporting your babies sleep. This means that the guides on wake windows are still an important foundational aspect of your child’s sleep and how you support them. They still need to be considered.
What we are really trying to emphasize is that these need to be used as a starting point, a baseline to go off of. They are averages. So what that means is that if the average wake window for a baby the same age as your baby is 2 hours, that means some babies would be able to handle a longer wake window and some would need to going down for nap or bedtime after a shorter period of time or we run the risk of them falling into an overtired cycle.
The same is true for sleep totals. Some babies will thrive off of 10 hours of sleep a night while others will need to have 12-13 hours to be well rested and content the next day. We know that homeostatic sleep pressure is one of the biological factors that influences sleep so it is important to understand what is appropriate based on age, while also remembering that there is a huge range of what can be normal and healthy for babies of a certain age.
So yes, use guides, get to know what is typical of a baby the same age as yours, but then remember that they are averages and that they do not take into account any individuality, which brings us to our next step for meeting your baby where they are at!
Step Two: Get to Know Your (wonderfully unique) Baby
There is so much more to your baby than wake windows and sleep totals.
As an example, it is so important to take into account sensory needs and temperament.
Let’s start with sensory. Does your baby need lots of gross motor input in a day? If so, maybe they would benefit from rough and tumble play before bed. What about tactile preferences? Does your baby prefer deep pressure or gentle touch? If we were to consider auditory processing, we might wonder if your baby finds white noise soothing or overstimulating?
Now what about temperament. Is your baby easy going and flexible? If so, they likely easily fall into a natural rhythm and can easily adapt when needed. Or is your child spirited or strong willed? If this sounds more like your baby you might find they do better when you work to introduce a little structure.
There are so many individualities we could touch on that make your child unique, but the idea here is that you avoid comparing with others, and simply focus on what makes your child unique and pour into them in a way that works for them.
Step Three: Tune into Your Baby In the Moment and Adjust as Needed
Just when you think you have everything figured out, your baby changes… at least we think it feels that way. Maybe you’ve fallen into a rhythm that is working and then they start teething, or they are a bit more fussy than usual as they work on mastering a new skill, or the developmental progression they are hitting has brought with it a strong wave of separation anxiety. This could very well mean that they may be in need of some extra support from you. They might be waking more at night, they might be calling for you more. So while we can take into account the age based information, and we can be considerate of our babies unique temperament and sensory needs and their preferences, there will be times we just need to let it all go and meet them where they are at that moment.
Be present in the moment, tune into your instincts and trust yourself to be exactly who your baby needs you to be. There is no better mother for you baby than you, all they need is for you to meet them where they are at.