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A common struggle most new parents deal with after bringing home baby is S L E E P . Your spouse complains to you about it, you're not sure your baby's getting enough, and for f*ck sake, you don't feel like you're getting any!
So, I thought we NEED a conversation about baby sleep from a sleep coach professional, and I'm excited to bring you the marvelous Marni Thompson-Tilove from Raising Littles, to shed some light on how to help new parents navigate around baby's sleep cycles.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you got to where you are today with your interest in the topics of SLEEP?
I've worked with families and children for over 20 years as a social worker and early childhood specialist; and I have gained valuable experience and knowledge in the fields of infant and toddler care, child development, parenting, early childhood education, infant and maternal mental health, among others.
When I had my first child my vast experiences merged with my new reality of being a first-time mom and my interests expanded to sleep, breastfeeding, pregnancy and post-partum experiences. During this time I became very focused on my child's sleep or lack thereof, and I would obsess over how much or little sleep he'd gotten every day.
I was very determined to help my children become independent and solid sleepers from a young age. It’s something I’ve always been passionate about as a mother.
When the opportunity came to start my own business I decided I would focus on helping parents learn ways to shape and sustain healthy sleep habits for their children since it’s such a crucial part of feeling successful as a parent.
Where did your passion for helping parents navigate their baby's sleep cycles begin, and how has your expertise developed/grown through the years?
In my work as a social worker sleep often came up, and I would talk to parents about what I had learned and what techniques they could try.
I was also the friend that people would come to for lots of general parenting and development advice so sleep was a natural piece of those conversations.
As I had more children and experimented with different sleep training techniques I learned a lot about what works/doesn’t work and
learned early on that there isn’t one size fits all when it comes to helping children learn to sleep. It’s been an organic, natural part of my parenting journey and in my career, as well.
What I love about the approach I use is that it can be customized to fit any situation- co-sleeping, nursing, etc. And I am called a Gentle Sleep Coach for a reason- the approach is minimal crying and with lots of parental support.
Is there a natural sleep cycle development for newborns, babies and toddlers? If so, can you briefly state what each is?
0-6 Months: In the first five months of life the natural sleep cycle or circadian rhythm is becoming more consistent and predictable as the brain grows and develops.
Most babies learn the difference between day and night sleep by 8 weeks, however there is still a lot of inconsistency and that is normal.
Their daytime sleep may be inconsistent, and it’s totally normal for babies up to 5 months to take 3-5 short (30-45 minute) naps per day.
We don’t expect babies to have regular sleep patterns until closer to 6 months, and many babies still wake at least once to eat during the night.
Trying to train a baby to sleep through the night before 6 months is not recommended because their systems aren’t ready to go long periods without eating, and their sleep cycles aren’t fully developed, so it tends to backfire for many families.
6-12 Months: By around 5 1/2 to 6 months, babies’ brains have mastered the different between night and day and their bodies are more regulated when it comes to eating and sleeping.
They can go longer periods of time without eating and once the pediatrician gives the green light that baby is gaining weight and healthy enough to sleep through the night sleep training can begin.
This is also the time that many infants naturally create a nap schedule; because their systems are more regulated and so they have a more predictable sleep, play and eat cycle.
12-24 Months: There isn’t really anything new with sleep cycles here- it’s more related to development, which I will discuss below.
In the first 2 years of a new baby’s life – is there a certain age range where baby’s sleep schedule significantly changes because of their natural development?
There is some disagreement about how much sleep is recommended based on age but the National Sleep Foundation recommends the following amount in a 24 hour period:
The main reason why a baby’s sleep schedule is disrupted is due to developmental gains or milestones which have typical age ranges in which we expect to see growth.
There is a spectrum for each stage, however, so I always caution families not to get too caught up in the number of months and weeks the baby is but rather by noticing what the baby/toddler is doing and if there are any changes in eating or mobility.
Those are typically the culprits for sleep disruption outside of ordinary childhood illnesses (colds, eat infections, cutting teeth).
The typical age ranges we see sleep disruption due to a developmental gain is:
Trying to train a baby to sleep through the night before 6 months is not recommended because their systems aren't ready to go long periods without eating and their sleep cycles aren't fully developed so it tends to backfire for many families. — MARNI THOMPSON-TILOVE
What is something about baby and parents SLEEP that has surprised you to learn?
That nap coaching is the hardest for children and parents because their sleep cycles are shorter. When they have a partial arousal in between cycles, the baby gets confused and starts to wake up, and it’s really hard to put yourself back to sleep after a partial arousal. That’s why children often take short naps, and parents don’t realize they could sleep longer if they knew how to get themselves back to sleep.
It’s hard for parents because they have to do the nap coaching, and it requires clear boundaries, consistency and often being tied to the house for a couple weeks during the day while baby is learning.
What is the #1 question or most common complaint parents come to you with about their baby's sleep, and what is your response?
It's that their child doesn’t sleep through the night, and they are exhausted from trying to get their baby/toddler back to sleep multiple times a night.
Once I confirm that their child is over 6 months and healthy, my response is to ask how they get their baby/child to fall asleep, and then explain that however baby is falling to sleep at the beginning of the night is how they will need to go back to sleep every time they wake.
The parents’ job is to help the child learn to fall asleep independently at night. And my job is to coach the parents!
What is the #1 question or most common complaint parents come to you with about themselves getting to sleep, and what is your response?
Well it’s usually related to the above question, and parents just aren’t getting consistent sleep at night because they wake up often to get their child back to sleep BUT another common complaint is that parents have coped by letting their child sleep in their bed, and now parents aren’t sleeping well, and they want their bed and intimacy back; and for their child to learn how to fall asleep and stay in their own crib/bed all night.
My response to this is to ask how committed parents are to change this habit because it can take a little bit longer and more determination/ consistency on the parent’s part to help a child unlearn this habit.
The details of the technique vary but ultimately parents have to be committed to make a change and then remain consistent!
Are there any unanswered topics about sleep in the professional realm that still needs to be addressed or not discovered that you find is interesting?
I think it’s always evolving- what we know now based on research and brain science may change as we learn more about the brain.
There’s still so much to learn about brain development so for now I feel confident that what I am doing is the best approach and uses the most recent evidence-based research but every generation believes they are doing the right thing until more research comes along.
Visit www.raisinglittles.orgto learn more.