You want to sleep, you want your baby to sleep, and your baby needs sleep. So why doesn’t your baby sleep?!
Most likely, your baby does sleep, but certainly not like you. Having a realistic idea of what a typical 24 hours for your baby are where we are going to start. If you aren’t tracking, we encourage you to get your perceptions out of the way of reality for a few days.
Along with getting a realistic idea of what your baby is doing in 24 hours, we also encourage families to open themselves to the possibility that they contribute to their baby’s habits.
Two pieces of news we share with parents regularly are:
“Your baby isn’t awake.” and
“Your baby is tired and overstimulated, and needs your help settle to sleep.”
We’ll start with the second bit first.
Babies don’t know that when they are overwhelmed up after a long day, or a super exciting play session, or even after meeting new people, going to sleep will be harder. As adults, we have felt that rush of adrenaline, and know that going to bed may be impossible without some time to calm down and prepare their mind for bed.
If you have been running errands or was out at an event, or even sitting at home with noisy toys or the TV on – your baby can become overwhelmed. The lights, the noise, the smells are a lot!
Your baby can’t sit at the kitchen counter, drink a cup of tea, or sit and listen to some peaceful music or even process the events that they experienced. They can only communicate that they are unsure, they don’t know what to do with the information, and they need reassurance – all messages sent through crying.
So how do you help an overstimulated baby?
Here are some things to try:
- Start by checking their diaper, and change it if soiled or dirty.
- Lower lights, turn off TVs, games, and any music. If there are any strong smells, remove the source of the smell, or change locations.
- Try not to make any drastic movements, which may feel contradictory if you usually bounce or jiggle your baby to help them settle.
- If it is hard to make the room darker, or if your baby needs less to look at, you can lightly drape a washcloth or burp cloth over their eyes to reduce visual stimulation.
- Try starting with your baby nestled in the crook of your neck and rub circles on their back. Or hold a firm hand on their back, and slowly pat their bottom.
- You can try some movement by swaying back and forth, but bouncing can add an extra stimulant to an overtired baby.
- Don’t worry about sleep with an overstimulated baby, focus on helping them feel secure, and rest can come next.
What do you mean my baby isn’t actually awake?
One of the things babies do when they sleep is make all sorts of noises. And these noises are normal, but sure can trick new parents!
Babies make grunts, sighs, farts, squeals, and any number of other bells and whistles. Sometimes babies will even sleep with their eyelids open a bit!
Sometimes the noise comes at a lighter period of sleep in their sleep cycle, sometimes they are dreaming, sometimes they move to get into a more comfortable position. There are muscle twitches, and tummy aches, farts, or the need to suck.
While the instinct is to swoop in and pick up your baby immediately, take a breath, quietly check the situation, and unless your baby is full-on eye-balls open for sure awake, leave your baby where they lay.
If they are grunting and don’t settle in again, you can make some shushing noises and gently lay your hand on their chest to comfort or gently pat their back.
Allow them to cycle through that moment, without you interrupting their sleep.