When is it time to get help for my child’s sleeping?

By Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse, Safe Sleep Space

There are some common themes when it comes to managing our children’s sleep. And although every baby and toddler is an individual, parents tend to share similar responses to sleeping problems. One is hoping that things will get better with time, the other is finding it difficult to ask for help.

Sleep is dynamic. Our children’s sleep is no exception and no two days, or nights, are exactly the same.

What’s Happened?
It’s normal for children to have periods of time when they sleep and settle more easily. For no apparent reason they may tend to fall asleep without too much fuss, sleep for reasonable lengths of time and are happy when they wake up. Then, something happens and all that lovely predictability just disappears.

Parents can agonise over why all of a sudden, things have changed. The truth is that we don’t always know why our baby/toddler’s sleep habits change for the worse. Like so many other mysteries of parenting, we don’t always come up with an answer.

There are however, several factors which seem to influence sleep and settling changes:
1. Reaching a new developmental stage
2. Teething
3. Changes in environment – house move, starting childcare, a new baby in the family
4. Illness – including incubating, having and/or recovering from an illness
5. Changes in diet and eating pattern
6. Hunger
7. Thirst
8. Transitioning from bassinette to cot and then a toddler bed
9. Ambient noise, light and/or temperature
10. Rolling one way but not the other. Typically, babies learn to roll first from their back to their front. Then they take a few weeks to learn how to roll from front to back.

Six Things We Know to be True About Infant/Toddler Sleep
1. Sometimes sleep improves with time, but sometimes it gets worse. It can also stay the same for a long time.
2. Sleep associations can change, but often, parents need specific support and guidance.
3. Children know what they want, but parents know what they need. These can be very different.
4. Change starts first with the parent and then the child. Children rarely initiate change on their own, even if their parent/s are struggling.
5. Evidence based, gentle sleep management does not negatively affect children.As long as they are loved, happy, healthy, and thriving, the way they are managed at sleep time does no harm.
6. Consistency and persistence is important. Change is not quick and it can take parents and children weeks to learn new skills in settling.

I Think I Can Do This...
Most of us have a range of coping skills which we call on when things get tough. From childhood, we’ve learned strategies around how to identify a problem, come up with a goal and then work towards achieving it. That works fine most of the time when problems aren’t too complex. However, once we’ve had children, approaching challenges is not so easy.
No matter what our professional background or expertise, becoming a parent creates a cataclysmic change in our lives.
Work skills do not translate across into our parenting - it’s just not that simple.

When is it Time to Ask for Help?
Every parent has their own threshold for putting up their hand. What’s timely for one may not be for another. We are all different.
However, there are some more common ‘red flags’ for parents of young children who don’t sleep well.

Are you?
o Feeling unable to cope anymore? Do you have a sense of being overwhelmed by your child/ren’s sleep and settling behaviour?
o Having thoughts of harm to yourself or your child? This is a ‘red flag’ for seeking help.
o Feeling depressed, anxious or have other mental health issues?
o Feeling as if your relationship with your child is being impacted by their sleep?
o Feeling your relationship with your partner or other children is being impacted?
o Exhausted by trying a range of sleep and settling strategies which are just not working?
o Feeling you need some ideas to help improve your child’s sleep? You don’t need to be desperate, just open to some improvements.
One big motivator for change is feeling hopeful for better days ahead. We tend to change what we’re doing when we are either desperate or optimistic.

Where Can I Go for Help?
For your child’s sleep and settling management-
o Your child health nurse
o Your GP or paediatrician
o Safe Sleep Space - known for it's gentle and response-based approach Safe Sleep Space is an early parenting consultancy group, that specialises in helping families with infant and toddler sleep and settling. Safe Sleep Space offer a range of services including sleep and settling telephone consultations, apps, videos, handbooks and more.

For Emotional Support
o Family and friends
o Parenting groups
o Your GP
o A psychologist or psychiatrist who specialises in post natal support
Written for Safe Sleep by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

Gain more Parenting Insights at our Expos

Get your Expo tickets today! View Expo dates