So often nighttime parenting tends to fall on one parent, particularly in nursing families. The nursing parent takes sole responsibility for nighttime parenting because nursing is such an effective way to get baby to sleep. If this works for your family, there is no need to change anything.
For some families, however, this is not sustainable. Finding ways to share night time parenting, and using a sleep toolbox* to help baby fall asleep in different ways, can be an effective way to find balance and share parenting duties. It is 100% ok for baby to nurse to sleep with the nursing parent and have other ways to fall asleep with other people.
There are many ways to parent a baby to sleep, and as they enter different developmental phases, what works may change. It's ok, and normal, to change the routine as baby grows and develops.
It’s also ok, and a good thing, for baby to be able to be parented to sleep in different ways and by different caregivers. Babies are very adaptable. We just need to give the baby and caregiver the time and space to work out their own routines.
There is also nothing saying that the way you parent baby to sleep is the way you must respond in the middle of the night. These are different situations and you will respond differently.
So what should you keep in mind and what’s in your sleep toolbox? Here are a few ideas….
The most important thing to remember is that babies pick up on our energy
Remaining relaxed and calm during the bedtime or naptime routine is key. Additionally, if you have spent more than 30 minutes trying to get your baby to sleep, then it’s likely baby isn’t tired or is over tired but you missed that sleep wave. Rather than continuing to try, creating frustration, take a break and try again in 30-60 minutes.
Nursing to sleep
This is a wonderful way to help a baby to sleep. The nursing hormones create a relaxed and sleepy state in both parent and baby. Most babies will grow out of nursing to sleep at some point all on their own, and then nursing may need to move earlier in the bedtime routine when it no longer eases a baby into sleep.
It can be fun to make up a playlist to dance your baby to sleep. Start with more energetic songs that then shift to slower tempos. It may take 4-6 songs, but as baby ages, this could decrease. When baby is asleep, you can ease him down into his cot, bum first, and then slowly remove your hands.
Wearing a baby in a sling or wrap can be just the right combination of closeness and movement to help a baby transition to sleep. Once baby is deeply asleep (think rag doll) you can ease them out of the carrier and into their bed.
Rocking or patting to sleep
Rocking baby in a rocking chair or glider provides closeness and movement. Likewise walking and patting them can provide the same. Once baby is deeply asleep, you can ease baby into her bed.
Cuddling to sleep
Sometime baby just needs to be next to you to sleep. After you have gone through your routine, snuggle him next to you until he is deeply asleep. Then gently ease him into his own bed.
Sometimes a walk in the stroller is what baby needs to fall asleep. This can be really helpful for a baby fighting a nap. Make sure the stroller is comfortable and that baby is in weather appropriate clothes.
Sometimes movement isn’t a realistic way to get baby to sleep. Soothing touch can be a great way to calm baby. Touch her body while quietly, and calmly, naming the different parts. Pretend you are a yoga teacher guiding him through a meditation “this is your hair, this is your forehead, all the way down to her toes.
Gentle touch through massage can help babies unwind, relax, relieve gas, and improve sleep. As most people are unfamiliar with massage techniques for babies, I encourage you to seek out a few resources, or classes, to help you best use this tool.
Some of these methods will not work at some stages of development or for some babies. Some methods will work for certain caregivers and not others. This is ok. Babies can adapt to different routines from different care givers. It can be good to experiment, but if something isn’t working, there’s no need to force it. Additionally, it can be helpful to revisit things at different times to see if they work better.
Parent baby to sleep in ways that you and your baby both enjoy, and bedtime can become a time of connection.
* This sleep toolbox is inspired by Dr. Sear’s suggestion to get baby used to a variety of ways to fall asleep in The Baby Sleep Book.