Recently in our Facebook community, a parent posted asking, “what’s the secret to sleep without sleep training?” Community members quickly jumped onto the post (they way they often do) to provide support and their take on it. We saw comments like, “acceptance”, “patience”, “following their lead”, and “keeping them close”, which we are ALL for, but today we want to talk about one thing that we find doesn’t get touched on quite enough, making changes to meet your whole family’s needs.
When we use a baby-led approach to sleep this means we are following our babies’ cues and meeting their needs, whatever those needs may be. We are seeing sleep as more than a behaviour and always working to understand why our children are waking or having difficulty sleeping. We want to take a holistic approach so we can get to the root cause of your family’s sleep concerns rather than treating sleep as a behaviour. We want to understand your child’s unique sleep needs and follow their cues and individual patterns. We want to meet their needs and show up for them however they need us to when it comes to supporting them with sleep. The needs babies might have during times of sleep range from hunger to a need for connection, as well as everything in between.
Beyond these needs, there is one really important need our children have that we do not think is discussed often enough. This is the need for a healthy and happy caregiver. Our children need us to be able to show up for them, so when sleep is a concern to the point that it is affecting our ability to parent our children during the day (or at night!) and be present for them as the mother or father we want to, then we believe there is a place for parent-led changes.
Certain sleep situations or patterns may leave us feeling exhausted, anxious or even resentful. We have to remember that if we are not okay, our baby is not okay. Our children co-regulate, so we need to have positive emotions about sleep so that they can too. Even though some of the changes we support families with are not baby-led in the same way as meeting a need of breast or bottle in the middle of the night in response to a cry of hunger, we are still making the change in order to meet an essential need for our child - ensuring they have a caregiver they can depend on. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
The baby-led approach also means that changes do not look exactly the same from family to family. Each baby, as well as each family, has different needs. So by tuning into little ones, we can make specific changes that best suit the family. There is nothing wrong with making changes from a parent led perspective. In fact, sometimes it can be essential. Our children do not need a parent who is self-sacrificing to the point they are suffering. Our children need a parent who is taking care of themselves so they can take care of their family.⠀⠀
Now when we talk about making parent-led changes this might include night weaning when appropriate (fully or even just partially), transitioning a child to their own sleep space, bringing in another caregiver to share sleep responsibilities, setting limits around bedtime or nocturnal visits with your toddler, or even something like shifting sleep associations to be able to parent your child to sleep in a different way. Whatever the change may be, it is okay to make a parent-led change when things are not working for your family. This does NOT mean you need to sleep train to achieve these results.
What is important to understand, is that these parent-led changes can be made while still remaining close and connected to your child. We can make parent-led changes and still be present for our children. We can make transitions that are rooted in attachment. A change in sleep habits does not mean there needs to be a change in your relationship or level of connection.
Before we talk about how we support families to make these types of changes while staying close and connected, we want to touch on why it is so important parent-led changes be initiated in certain situations. As we mentioned, our babies co-regulate with us. But let’s go into a little bit more detail on that.
As explained by Dr. Stuart Shanker, our baby’s primitive brain is connected to our mature brains through the senses using something called the interbrain. This connection is what helps our children to down-regulate when they are upset. Through mirror neurons our children interpret and feel the emotions and energy we have when it comes to sleep. So if we are resentful and upset about something regarding sleep, they are going to feel that too. Being that sleep is a vulnerable state, if our children sense through the interbrain and mirror neurons that something isn’t right, they will have a more difficult time surrendering to sleep. Knowing this, we can understand why it is important that parents are feeling both confident and comfortable with the things that are happening around sleep with their children.
This is why it is okay to set limits before you hit your own limits. It is okay to make a change so that you can confidently respond to your child in a way that feels right for you, that makes it possible for you to show up for them as the leader they need you to be.
Now let’s go back and chat a bit about how we make these changes.
When we support parents through changes around sleep, we are never asking them to stop following their heart or trusting their instincts. We still want you to be fully responsive, just in a way that works for BOTH you and your child. We still want you to be there to be the answer for your child.
The most important thing to know about how we make these changes is that it never comes down to using separation or isolation to make changes. If you want to make changes to how you are supporting your child to sleep, we will work to find a way for you to parent your child to sleep in a way that not only works for you, but is something you enjoy doing with your child before they drift off to sleep for the night. If it comes to pulling back on nursing through the night we will look at other ways you can respond to your child instead. If you are finding bedtime to be a battle we can look at ways to bridge the separation to make it easier for them to rest peacefully. If you no longer want to be the only one who can put your baby to sleep, we can help grow your child’s village of attachment so they feel safe and secure going to sleep with the support of another caregiver.
Parent-led changes are not about taking something away from your child, they are about making a shift to something that works for both of you so that you can move forward not only feeling connected through a strong attachment, but also in a way you can both feel rested and allow you to thrive as a family.
If you want to learn more about how to get more sleep without sleep training, join us in our FREE webinar next week.