In our third installment of our sleep training series, we are talking about how to handle regressions, sickness, travel, and more!
This post comes to you from Lindsey McGonegal from Sleep Little Lamb! Lindsey is a certified baby and toddler sleep consultant and helped us sleep train our own daughter with fantastic results. Take it away Lindsey!
So, you’ve put in the hard work and commitment that comes with planning and implementing a sleep plan. You’ve stayed home from playdates, rushed home early for naps, skipped late-night dinners, endured some tears and stress, but your little one is finally sleeping through the night AND taking awesome, independent naps! Everyone is happier, healthier, and feeling great! (Not there yet? Check out my brand new free resource and case study on all the steps you need to take to finally get all the sleep you and your little one need!)
Now your biggest fear is – what if all our hard work goes down the drain? Teething, regressions, travel, and sickness can all can wreak havoc on your little one’s sleep and put you right back where you started. Whether it’s coughing keeping them up all night and needing extra snuggles, a trip to a different time zone that’s got them all out of whack, or a new developmental milestone like rolling or crawling, you’re suddenly back in that desperate place of needing more sleep. How do you recover and get back to your healthy baseline?
Your original sleep plan is a great baseline, and you might be able to just hit the reset button and go right back to it. However, if it’s been some time since the original plan, you may need some updates. Here are the most common updates you’ll need to make now that your baby is older and hitting new milestones.
How do I know when it is time to change my baby’s sleep schedule?
If it’s been more than a month or two since you’ve followed a sleep plan for your baby, you’ll probably need to update baby’s schedule. This may mean that it’s time to shorten or drop a nap and extend the awake time between periods of sleep. For instance, if you had a great 3-nap schedule at 5 months, but now teething and sickness has hit at 9 months, you’ll need to make sure you update to a 2 nap schedule. This alone can fix bedtime battles and overnight wake-ups. (I cover the 3-2 nap transition in my ebook Little Lamb’s Baby Sleep Survival Guide.) If you have a newborn that was going to bed late but sleeping through the night but now the 4-month regression has hit, you’re going to need to bring bedtime a lot earlier (usually around 6:30 pm) now that their biological clock is set by the circadian rhythm.
How does the sleeping environment affect my baby’s sleep?
The next big thing you will need to update is where they are sleeping and what they are wearing to sleep. If you haven’t already, make sure your baby is sleeping in a safe sleep environment – a firm, flat surface without any loose bedding, pillows, toys, and always placing the baby on their back. If they’ve been sleeping in a bassinet or sleeper that they’ve outgrown, it’s time to move them into their own crib. If they’ve been sleeping in a swaddle but are now over 4 months and/or starting to roll, you’ll need to start having them sleep in a sleep sack instead of a swaddle. For older babies or toddlers, you might consider introducing a comfort item or a dim red-light spectrum nightlight if your child is over 2 years old.
When is it time to change your baby’s sleep associations?
When a baby is in the newborn stage, they may still need plenty of assistance getting to sleep, or he may be dependent on a pacifier. This is totally fine, as long as it’s working for everyone involved. However, when they get older, many babies will start outgrowing these sleep associations. Or, perhaps travel, teething, or illness caused you to resort to desperate measures to get your little one to sleep, only to find you’re now having to do it all night long. You may suddenly be rocking your baby to sleep every 2 hours at night, or you may need to replace their pacifier multiple times per night. If this is happening, you may decide it’s time to change baby’s sleep associations to something that they can replicate themselves. Now you’ll want to start laying them down awake, or at least drowsy, so they can work on falling asleep independently. If they’ve been dependent on the pacifier but are not quite old enough to learn how to find and replace it themselves (usually about 7-8 months old), it might be best to drop it cold turkey and let them learn a new way to put themselves to sleep – sometimes they will suck on their hands or even their sleep sack. Around 6 months, you can ask your doctor about introducing a small comfort item that they can easily grasp onto and use to fall asleep.
How do I know when it is time to change sleep training methods?
Sleep training, where you give your baby the opportunity to learn to fall asleep independently, is not for everyone, and that’s fine! But, if it is something that you’ve decided is best for your family, make sure that you evaluate what method to use to get back on track (check out our article on the most popular sleep training methods for more info). While young babies will need a much more hands-on method to help them settle to sleep, older babies tend to need more space to self-soothe. Older babies become less sleepy and more easily stimulated by your presence, so some babies can be frustrated by your continual presence. It can prolong the process and make it more frustrating than if you were more out of the room. (Make sure you check out my new free resource, “An Exhausted Mom’s Guide to Choosing a Sleep Training Method – Without All The Drama” for help with deciding on the best method for you and your child.)
But at the same time, as your baby turns into a toddler, they may begin to benefit more from a gradual, in-the-room method like Gradual Withdrawal, because you can communicate with them more and they can understand that your presence is supposed to be supportive.
Baby sleep can feel like an ever-moving target, but by continually making appropriate updates to your sleep plan, you’ll keep everyone on track and getting the sleep they need to thrive! For more specifics on how to handle regressions, teething, travel, and more, check out the Sleep Little Lamb blog.