A wife, mother of twin boys, and mompreneur of FamilyBliss.ca, Deanna is a certified pediatric sleep coach with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has a science degree from the University of Waterloo, is certified as a clinical research associate from McMaster University, and she is passionate about helping families with children ages 0-6 find healthy, personalized solutions to their sleep dilemmas. Today, Deanna shares her expert newborn sleep tips, including setting the record straight on some common baby sleep myths.
TiP: Deanna, what was your personal experience as a new mom trying to get twin babies on a sleep schedule compared to what you know now as a pediatric sleep coach?
Deanna: Before becoming a mom, I always thought that babies came home and they slept. Of course they woke often to eat and be changed, but I was under the impression that in between the new smiles and coos, they slept, and sleep just happened. Then I become a mom! My boys were born premature, and one of them came home from the hospital a week before the other.
With one baby at home, my belief about babies sleeping didn’t change. He ate, we changed him, and he slept; and it was a pretty content cycle for us. Then my second son came home from the hospital, and it was a very different story. He was the baby that would be completely interacting with the party at all hours of the night and didn’t show any signs of needing to rest. Then, when I decided it was bedtime, hysteria.
Now, with some training behind me, I realize that my son is what we refer to as an alert child. I needed to monitor and control the amount of sleep he needed based on the clock, rather than his sleep cues. He had a hard time “shutting it off,” and it was my job as his mom to take him to a physical space with little to no stimulation, so that he could sleep.
Now I know sleep is a learned skill. Some babies learn it instinctively, while others need to be taught.
TiP: What advice do you have for new parents who are feeling discouraged by a sleepless baby despite sleep coaching efforts?
Deanna: The secret to sleep coaching is being 100% consistent and 100% realistic with your plan. I have heard things such as: “I’d like my baby to sleep in until 10am.” That is not realistic. Or if you respond to each middle-of-the-night wakeup with a different response, you’re not being consistent, and that is confusing for a little baby. So, when I work with a family to customize a sleep plan, I always ask what their goals are. Then, we make sure that they are realistic and work on a plan that the parents can follow through on consistently.
Also, Cry It Out or the Extinction Method does work. The problem is there are very few parents that can weather the tears of a baby 100% of the time and never respond; and sometimes even changing your response just once is enough to send your child off course. So, although it does work, I almost never recommend it. I prefer other, gentler methods of coaching.
Also, parents of infants four months and younger should watch the amount of time a baby stays awake between naps. Usually, at this young age they can only stay awake approximately one to two hours before getting over-tired.
TiP: What are signs that a baby may be sleepless for other reasons?
Deanna: Sleep can also be affected by medical conditions such as asthma, allergies, reflux and sleep apnea. All of these conditions would need to be diagnosed and treated by a physician.
TiP: What are some common baby sleep myths?
1. Myth: Formula will help a baby sleep longer. There really is no evidence that suggests this is true. If a mom can breastfeed (and I know some can’t — I was one of them), it is the best option for a baby. Formula or breast milk, it will not change the outcome of sleep.
2. Myth: Rice cereal before bed induces sleep. Again no real evidence to show that it will help a baby sleep. There are some medical instances where a physician may recommend a baby receive rice cereal in a bottle, but the recommendation is not linked to sleep.
3. Myth: Babies with full bellies sleep longer at night. This situation is often approached by either giving more milk prior to bedtime or even giving solids before bedtime or both. This should be avoided as babies thrive best when fed on demand, and there is a risk of inhibiting the baby’s ability to self-regulate.
4. Myth: Longer stretches between daytime feedings equals less nighttime feedings (the four-hour feeding rule). I would refer parents back to their physician or lactation consultant with this plan. I also want to ensure that newborns are getting enough nutrition and maintain their normal growth curve before we start to minimize milk intake. A baby’s stomach is three times the size of his fist, so there will be a huge variation from baby to baby. Some babies will do well on this plan, others will need to be fed more often. So, the four-hour feeding rule isn’t really a fits-all rule.
And if a child is less than four months old, I have to encourage the parents to respond to the baby’s needs. Feeding at this young age is just as important as sleep.
TiP: What are major newborn sleep practices all parents and caregivers should apply for infant safety?
Deanna: The basic baby sleep safety practices that I recommend are:
- Back to sleep: The safest position for a baby to sleep is on his back.
- Safe sleep environment: Baby should sleep on a firm and flat mattress that has all potential hazards eliminated. That means no stuffed animals, traditional bumpers, or duvets.
- Controlled room temperature: An ideal room temperature is 68F – 72F, probably a little cooler than most people would assume for a newborn.
- Room sharing: I’m not talking about co-sleeping (that is a very personal decision). I’m recommending that for the first few months of life, parents share a room with baby, placing baby in either a nearby crib or bassinet.
You can read more about safe baby sleep habits on Deanna’s Family Bliss Blog.
TiP: Do the sleep-deprived on the front lines of bedtime battles often need encouragement as well as sleep coaching?
I often find myself saying, “. . . and life happens.” I know that we can’t live on a structured schedule 100% of the time. We have family obligations, work responsibilities and sometimes we just want to enjoy a moment. All that means is that sometimes our children won’t get to bed on time or be able to nap in their crib. It’s OK; life happens! Sleep coaching does not mean that we have to live on a rigid schedule; it’s rather a more flexible routine than that. A well-rested and sleep-coached child can adapt to changes, as long as we give them the ability to catch up. Life happens, and we should enjoy it!
“Sleep is imperative to both the cognitive and physical development of your child, but it is also a key component to the success of a healthy and happy family.” ~Deanna Lorusso, Family Bliss
Feel free to contact Deanna for a complimentary 15-minute consultation. Tell her you’re a fellow tuned in parent!