HELP! My baby won’t sleep!!
Before your precious baby comes into the world, you have so many plans and intentions to do everything right. You plan to have a consistent routine incorporating a peaceful bath, a soothing massage, serene lullabies, and reading emotionally charged board books conveying your deep,
never ending love to your sweet infant. You will then gently and lovingly rock your baby until they become drowsy and place them in their crib where they will fall asleep quietly on their own.
Never will you cosleep, nurse, rock, bounce, shush, pat your baby to sleep for of course all of those methods set up bad habits that will torture your family should you ever need to change them.
Your baby will be that baby who sleeps through the night even during the newborn period because you are doing everything “right” according to the books, your friends, your in-laws, your neighbours, Facebook, Google, and that person you met in the grocery store who raised her babies thirty years ago.
And then reality hits. You bring home your new bundle of joy only to discover that your baby won’t sleep…… EVER. As the days go by, functioning on 45 minute chunks of sleep becomes more and more difficult. Your short term memory has your thoughts leaving your head as quickly as they appear. The car keys you have been searching for have been located by your husband in the
drawer of the fridge, you end up at your work instead of the grocery store because your brain was running on autopilot, and you need to track your baby’s nursing sessions because you can no longer keep track of which side was nursed on 2 hours ago.
Out of sheer desperation, you start trying all the things you swore you would never do.
Before you re-enter reality enough to realize what has happened, your baby has become accustomed to falling asleep only with your help.
In a perfect world, we could all parent incredibly well on 4 hours of broken sleep, and we could shape our babies sleep exactly the way we had planned.
Unfortunately, when we are completely and utterly sleep deprived, we go into survival mode out of sheer desperation. This means doing whatever works to get sleep NOW! Perhaps this means nursing to sleep, rocking back to sleep after the first waking, bringing baby into bed (but only after 4am), or trying a variety of sleep training methods only to give up after a couple nights afraid that you have emotionally damaged your child for life.
These are all examples of intermittent reinforcement.
In behaviorism, Intermittent Reinforcement is a conditioning schedule in which a reward or punishment (reinforcement) is not administered every time the desired response is performed.
Intermittent reinforcement can be your worst enemy when it comes to any type of sleep training.
Your baby ends up completely confused and has no idea what to expect in your responses or how to sleep on their own because the game keeps changing! By trying method after method without following through, babies and young children find it difficult to make sense of how they are supposed to learn this sleep thing. Your baby has trouble figuring out which behaviors to change and which behaviors will be rewarded when he whines, fusses, and cries. Changing your response frequently can be very unsettling to a child and almost always results in more of the tears you were desperately trying to avoid.
Do you want to know a secret?
Consistency is the key to sleep coaching. If you and your husband create a united front and respond consistently to ALL of your babies bedtimes and wake times, your baby will learn what to expect and will feel secure and safe in their world. If you can’t tolerate tears, perhaps the cry it out method is not for you. Perhaps try a gentler method, one that isn’t as emotionally wrenching so you know that you will be able to follow through. Once you have chosen your method, commit to it! There may be increased tears during the first couple of days while your child becomes accustomed to their new routine, but remember that the tears will stop when you remain consistent and loving in your response.
Have you found yourself using intermittent reinforcement? What methods have you tried to get your baby to sleep?
If you would like a customized gentle sleep plan made specifically for your baby, contact me. I’d love to help and I always offer a free 15 minute consultation.
Certified Gentle Sleep Coach