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Sleep Without Sleep Training

How to Get More Sleep, Without Sleep Training

At My Connected Motherhood, we are on a mission to connect, support, and empower as many families as possible to get more sleep without the use of any sleep training. Since the ability to get more sleep without needing to use any sleep training is a big part of our messaging, it’s natural that the number one question we get from families is, “HOW do you get more sleep without sleep training!?” We break out our process into four main steps: 1. Normalizing infant and toddler sleep. 2. Ruling out red flags. 3. Assessing and implementing the fundamentals of sleep. 4. Making connection-based changes to what is no longer working for your unique family. Today we’re going to walk you through the framework of how we support families so you can get a better idea of how this whole no sleep training approach works.

Step 1: Normalize infant and toddler sleep. This is absolutely the first step to supporting families to get more sleep without sleep training. We have to start having more conversations around what normal infant and toddler sleep looks like. It’s so normal for babies and toddlers to wake at night, and we actually want them to do so if they need ANYTHING from us in the middle of the night. But the wakings have been pathologized. Sleep training culture has told us that if a baby is “still” waking beyond 4-6 months of age we’re doing something wrong as parents, that we’ve created “bad habits” or our baby is using us as a “sleep crutch”. This erodes parents’ confidence and natural authority to take the lead and make the best possible decisions for their children, which doesn’t do ANYONE any good. At best, a parent may choose not to listen to the noise but still feel a little like they’re getting it wrong, or in many cases, a parent may go against their instincts and choose to sleep train even though they don’t want to, because that’s all they’re hearing from everyone and they feel like they’re failing.

Instead, when we normalize infant and toddler sleep and tell families that it is normal for babies and toddlers to wake, this shifts the pressure off of them to “fix” something that doesn’t actually need to be fixed. This then allows parents to better melt into this season of life and make the best decisions for their families with confidence. Night wakings are hard enough without everyone telling you that you’re to blame for them or that you need to make a change to something that’s completely normal. If you want to learn more about what to expect in your baby’s first year of life, check out our normal infant sleep blog here. We want you to know that you’re doing a great job no matter how many times your baby is waking up at night!

Step 2: Rule out any red flags. Now we know that we just went off on how it’s normal for babies to wake, but there are times when the wakings can be a sign that something more than just sleep is at play. If a baby is consistently waking hourly, without ever settling into a 2-3 hour stretch of sleep, that’s a red flag that something might be going on with them, that may need further attention. Some things to watch for are:
  • 1. Mouth breathing or snoring, which can be signs of a tongue tie or medical sleep disorder
  • 2. Arching back or pulling legs up and slamming them down, which can be signs of pain or discomfort that can be caused by a tongue tie or food sensitivity
  • 3. Really restless sleep or taking a long time to fall asleep at bedtime, which can be signs of an iron deficiency

It’s so critical that we address these underlying causes for sleep challenges because if you were to just go ahead and sleep train, they’re still going to be there. Your baby would still wake up just as often due to the underlying reason for the wake, they just wouldn’t signal to you. When we address these root causes, we typically see sleep start to improve soon after they’re addressed, all without making any other changes to how, where, or when a baby sleeps.

Step 3: Assess and implement the fundamentals of sleep. Once we’ve ruled out any red flags that may be preventing sleep, we move onto the fundamentals of sleep. This is practically everything that happens in a day because so many different factors influence sleep. We want to be sure that there’s nothing off during the day, because in most cases, making those adjustments can lead to more sleep for your family at night - without making a single change to how you respond to your child at night.

Some of the questions we might ask here include: What does a baby’s day look like? Are they being given time to move around freely? How are they eating during the day? Are they getting enough calories? Are they eating too many solid meals? Do they need a different type of play during the day? Are they feeling connected? Are their attachment needs being met? Can they depend on their big people to anticipate their needs? Are they allowed to express themselves? Are their big people doing okay? Do their big people need more support? How do the big people feel about sleep? Do they have a general rhythm to their day? Are their routines in place to cue them that sleep is coming? Is their environment conducive to sleep? Are they getting enough sleep during the day? Do they seem relatively happy throughout the day?

As you can see, there’s no shortage of questions we may ask and address when it comes to your little one’s sleep. The answers to these questions would guide us toward understanding where we can make shifts and changes to your family’s sleep to help get more sleep for your whole family.

Step 4: Make changes to what is no longer working, while staying close and connected with your child. The final step in getting more sleep without sleep training is to change the things that are no longer working for your family. We specifically add the "no longer working for your family" because what works really well in one home, may not work for another. There are no rules for what you can and cannot do in your home. As long as it’s safe and as long you’re responding, we feel that you should keep everything you love and just make changes to the things that are not working for you.

Once you have identified what is no longer working for your family, we encourage you to think about what would work for your family. If you’re tired of nursing your almost one year old back to sleep every 2 hours all night long, would you feel better about nursing once or twice a night? If you no longer want to bounce your baby to sleep while standing up, would you feel better about it if you sat down? What would work best for your family? Remember, it’s not all or nothing, you can set some boundaries around how often you will offer a feed or how long you’re willing to bounce for, before shifting to another way of soothing.

Then we want to support babies and toddlers through the changes we’re asking them to make. For some reason it’s easier to demonstrate this with a daytime example, so bare with us. Imagine your toddler asked for a cookie for breakfast one morning. Chances are, you probably would decline this request in exchange for a healthier breakfast choice. You wouldn’t say, “no you can’t have this cookie and in fact, now you can’t have breakfast altogether” because you didn’t want to give the cookie, you would likely say something along the lines of “I hear you really want a cookie but we’re not going to have one for breakfast… but here are a couple options for things you CAN have for breakfast”.

When we look at sleep, we can apply the same logic. If a baby is asking to be bounced back to sleep every 2 hours, and we no longer want to do that, we don’t need to say no to responding altogether like sleep training culture would have you believe. Rather, we would set a limit around when we’re willing to bounce back to sleep and work to support baby back to sleep with a different sleep association while supporting them through the change and listening to the emotions they’re communicating to us. This way we allow them the opportunity to co-regulate with us, and the support to adjust to a new pattern, all while feeling safe and secure in their attachment with us.

Want to learn more about the specifics? The Baby Sleep Course gives you everything you need to know about your baby’s sleep from birth to 18 months!

Sarah & Elli