So you’ve hit what seems like the 4-month sleep regression. Your beautiful baby was sleeping so wonderfully and is now waking up all night and catnapping in the day. Suddenly you find yourself not knowing what to do next! Cue…Google at 2am!
Sleep associations are a massive part of the way your baby goes to sleep and in fact learns to go to sleep. Sleep associations can both help and hinder sleep.
WHAT IS A SLEEP ASSOCIATION?
A sleep association is something that a child associates with falling asleep. A sleep association is something that your child requires to get to sleep and something that they cannot sleep without.
Anything can be a sleep association if your baby needs it to fall asleep, such as:
· Bottle Feeding
· Driving or Walking in the Pram - Motion
· Comfort Toy/Lovey
· Baby Carrier
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE BABY SLEEP ASSOCIATION Sleep associations only become negative when they get in the way of great sleep. An easier way to know if a sleep association exists is if your baby can’t “stay” asleep after going to sleep in a certain way.
For example: If your baby is rocked to sleep and wakes up 20 minutes later needing you to rock them back to sleep – rocking is a sleep association.
OR – If your baby is dependent on a dummy and wakes up every 2 hours needing that dummy to be replaced by you each and every time – that’s a negative sleep association.
On the other hand, if your baby uses a dummy to fall asleep but can sleep through the night, that’s grand. The dummy in this example is a positive sleep association. You are using the dummy as a sleep prop but it is not getting in the way of a good night’s sleep – both for you and for bub.
WHAT ABOUT NEWBORNS? Newborns are so fragile and they need you to comfort them, feed on demand and get them to sleep! Newborns do not have the developmental capacity to self-settle and most will require some form of help to get to sleep. So don’t think you are going to form “bad” habits in the first two to three months! Enjoy those beautiful cuddles!
Just because you nurse, rock or hold your newborn to sleep does not mean that you will be doing this for the next year of their life! Ultimately we don’t want to be doing this at 4 months so between 3 and 4 months is the perfect time to start getting your baby to gradually learn some self-settling skills.
YOU THINK YOU’VE GOT IT COVERED AND THEN….SLEEP ISSUES MAY START The 4 month regression….we have all heard it! This is when the sleep associations that you had been using during those newborn months suddenly stop working. Why? Because your baby’s sleep starts to consolidate, sleep cycles become more adult like and your baby’s awareness increases. You may start to experience frequent wakeups and catnaps. Your baby will wake up at the end of a sleep cycle looking for the prop or aid that got them to sleep in the first place. Teaching self-settling is the answer here.
And do you know what? You may be fine with frequent wakeups and catnaps and that’s cool. You just do what works until it doesn’t work anymore…
When you are frantic for long naps and longer stretches of sleep, you will need to take a look at your baby’s sleep associations to see what can be reduced or removed (negative associations) to help your baby consolidate their sleep.
EARLY SLEEP PROBLEMS CAN HAVE EFFECTS MUCH LATER ON LIFE
There are several long-range studies regarding childhood sleep habits and the effects of adolescence and adulthood. For example, one study in Montreal among 987 parents demonstrated that early sleep problems in 5 – 17 months continued for older children between 29-40 months. This study showed that certain habits such as mother present at sleep onset or giving food/drink after child awakens due to sleep difficulties led to disturbed sleep such as bad dreams, taking longer to fall asleep, and disrupted sleep.
PREVENTION IS ULTIMATELY BETTER THAN CURE
In case you don’t know much about me – I am a mum of two boys and I’ve had experience with many baby and toddler sleep challenges. My eldest son is the reason that I am a sleep consultant. This allows me to confidently say that I’ve been in your shoes and you will get through this!
The best way that I can describe the way I parent is that I am proactive rather than reactive. I don’t allow my kids to come into my bed and I don’t stay with them to fall asleep. But that doesn’t mean that I love them any less – I want them to have good sleep so that they can thrive and tackle each day feeling energised.
Dr. Elsie Taveras of Harvard Medical School found that long-term sleep related problems started as early as infancy and was quoted in a Times interview saying, "Parents and paediatricians should keep in mind that children have to develop the capacity to regulate their own sleep early in life and self-soothe themselves during the night."
If you’re reading this and have yet to have the issues start in the first place, go ahead and feel free to know that you’re doing a great job and to keep doing what you’re doing!
If you are starting to encounter issues, my warning is this: If your baby has any negative sleep associations it is a good idea to try and change these now. Yes it will be hard but ultimately it is going to save you months and months of broken, un-restorative sleep.
If you are not sure how change this or need some support in doing so then I can work with you to do this. Don’t think that you have to go it alone.
Simard V, Nielsen TA, Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Montplaisir JY., ‘Longitudinal study of preschool sleep disturbance: the predictive role of maladaptive parental behaviors, early sleep problems, and child/mother psychological factors.’ Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008 Apr;162(4):360-7. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.162.4.360. Accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18391145?fbclid=IwAR2Pr9fQs0d_i3CnIhZB0d8U5nseRptYVS7w7mRvhH2MOVoP6ae8ddcAYsA on 20th July 2019
Sharples, T., 2008, ‘How Not to Get Baby to Sleep.’ Time Magazine. Accessed from http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1728755,00.html on 20th July 2019
WHAT CAUSES NIGHTMARES?
One important thing to know about nightmares is that they can happen for no reason. Better Health Victoria reveals that "The cause of nightmares isn't known, but it is thought to be the ordinary stresses and strains of growing up. Children who have experienced a traumatic event, for example, tend to have frequent nightmares for the next six months or so."
Professor Harriet Hiscock further explains that "During nightmares...children will usually wake up completely from their bad dream and be scared. They welcome a hug and can remember what happened in the morning."
Children who have an overactive imagination are more prone to nightmares as are children who are sick with a fever. Nightmares can also happen because a child is not getting enough sleep or going to bed too late at night.
AT WHAT AGE DO NIGHTMARES BEGIN?
Your child can start having scary dreams at two years of age. Nightmares will reach a peak between the ages of 3 and 6 years.
Often if a child is under five years, they will not be able to tell the difference between a nightmare and reality. That’s why most of the kids within that range wake up terrified after a nightmare and remain scared for a while before going back to sleep.
NIGHTMARES VS NIGHT TERRORS
Sometimes nightmares get confused with night terrors. Night terrors (also known as sleep terrors) are "dramatic events that present a partial arousal state from deep sleep," and are characterised by, "facial expressions of fear, shouting, screaming, gasps, moans, uncontrollable shouting and agitation." 
After a nightmare, the person wakes up may remember details but a person who has experienced a night terror remains asleep and does not remember anything in the morning, although they may be able to recall aspects of the sleep terror immediately following the episode. Night terrors generally occur in the first third to first half of the night, and rarely during naps. Sleep terrors and sleepwalking are part of a group of parasomnias (undesirable movements and behaviours that occur during sleep) and are linked.
So if your child is experiencing a night terror, they may seem wide awake but they are actually not. Their eyes may be open but they will not realise that you are in the same room. It is best not to try and calm your child if they are experiencing a night terror as you could make the situation worse. Your child will calm down themselves and go back to sleep once the night terror is over.
Though the cause of night terrors is still unknown, it seems to be hereditary. This is because children who experience such sleep-distractions come from families with a history of night terrors, sleep talking, or sleepwalking.
Night terrors affect almost 40 percent of children and a much smaller percentage of adults. However frightening, night terrors aren't usually a cause for concern. Most children outgrow night terrors by their teenage years.
HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR CHILD DEAL WITH NIGHTMARES?
If your young one tends to experience nightmares more often, there are several things you can do to minimise or brush off the bad dreams. Such things include:
1. Keeping on top of your child’s sleep and ensuring that they get enough sleep in every 24 hour period.
Your child’s sleep needs to be quality sleep –Is their sleep environment encouraging restful sleep? Are they getting enough sleep? Maybe their bedtime needs to be earlier?
2. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine.
Do you have a good bedtime routine that starts two hours before bedtime and lets their brain and body wind down from what went on in the day? Are the books you are reading before bed conducive to restful sleep? i.e. No dragons or monsters or vampires in the stories? TV should be off by 4pm as it is just so stimulating and often as parents we are often not even aware of what our children are watching or what the episodes contain.
3. Discussing the nightmare with your child if there is a reoccurring theme.
If your child is experiencing nightmares with common themes or the same nightmare over and over it would be a good idea to have a chat as it might be something that is in fact bothering your child. Things like starting a new school, the introduction of a younger sibling or even moving house can be enough stress for a young child to start having nightmares. Talk to your child about dreams and explain that everyone has dreams and lots of people have nightmares.
4. Reassuring your child - Don't ignore them!
Give your child a comfort toy so that during the night if they wake up they can give that toy a cuddle and use it as a form of support. Use a night light that is pink, red or yellow as blue or white light actually prohibits the production of melatonin (our sleep hormone). You can also keep their bedroom door open. Get your child to draw our their fears on a piece of paper an hour before bedtime and then put it next to your bed so that you can “keep the fears away” and “keep them safe”. We would never use tactics such as “monster spray” as this showing your child that there is something to be scared of. We want them to know that there is nothing to be afraid of in the first place.
5. Not letting your child sleep with you!
When you're exhausted and at the end of your tether it is really tempting to bring your child into bed with you so you can get some much needed rest. This often backfires with nightmares and it suggests to you child that sleeping in their own bed is causing the nightmare. They may then become scared of sleeping in their own bed and want to sleep with you every night.
 Sleep Terrors in Childhood
Mason, Thornton B.A. et al.
The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 147, Issue 3, 388 - 392
FIND OUT MORE
So should you do a dream feed?
The aim of a dream feed is for you to feed your baby and then for them to consolidate the rest of their night sleep and not wake until morning (once they are age appropriate to go onto one feed a night). The dream feed will teach your baby to have their night feed before midnight, as opposed to after midnight so that you as a parent can go to bed and get a decent chunk of sleep after the dream feed.
When can I start a dream feed?
Very early on in the newborn weeks, you will find that your baby may be cluster feeding in the early evening and then do a big chunk of sleep after that. If your baby is not cluster feeding then they may wake at 9pm or 10pm naturally for a feed. Therefore, dream feeding is not encouraged in those early weeks.
At around 6-12 weeks, you can introduce an "awake feed" at 10pm. Wake your baby up fully, give a half feed, have a kick on the mat and then give them the other half and back to bed. This awake time should be around 30 to 45 minutes. If your baby then sleeps for a good three to five hours (depending on age and size), then this shows that the awake feed is working and you should only have to get up once more before morning!
Once they are 12 weeks you can start turning this into more of a dream feed and keep them asleep, rather than waking them up.
My baby still wakes after the dream feed!
If your baby is waking around 1am or 2am after you have given them the dreamfeed then this is a sign that it is not working. I would simply skip the dream feed, allow them to wake naturally for that one feed and then go back to sleep for the remainder of the night.
If you are doing a dream feed and your baby is not taking in a decent amount of milk, they are essentially having a "snack" and this then sets them up to do this for the remainder of the night. It is better to skip the dream feed and let them wake up when they will be genuinely hungry and ready to take a bigger feed.
You should be getting 5-6 hours of good sleep after a dream feed once your baby is 12 weeks old.
When should I drop the dream feed?
Drop the dream feed if it not working - i.e. You are not getting 5-6 hours of good, consolidated sleep after 12 weeks of age.
Between 5 to 6 months is a good time to start looking at dropping the dream feed as it will start to interrupt night time sleep cycles. Interrupting night time sleep cycles leads to further nighttime wakes. It is best to just let your baby wake naturally for a feed after this age and not schedule feeds overnight.
By the time your baby is on two solid meals a day of (around one quarter to one half of a cup each) you can look at dropping night feeds altogether. This usually happens at around 6.5 months.
What time is best for the dream feed?
You want to attempt a dream feed in your baby's deepest stage of sleep over night. This runs from 6pm or 7pm through to 11pm. Therefore the ideal window to dream feed is between 10pm to 11pm, before that stage of sleep ends. If it is after 11pm, leave your baby to wake naturally for their feed. It is also important to note that dream feeding prior to 10pm only encourages that last bedtime feed to not be as full/complete as it could be, as your baby’s digestive system learns they get another feed in a couple of hours, so there is no need to have a full feed at bed time.
Dream feeds will only work 50% of the time. If your night sleep is already very fragmented and your baby is over 16 weeks, very rarely does introducing a dream feed help. You should rather work on teaching your baby some self-settling skills so that they can consolidate their night sleep.
At the moment I cannot function. I dread putting my son to bed every single night because I just do not know what the night will bring. Usually I'm up with every 2 hours trying to resettle him. He feeds to sleep so I have no life - I cannot go out with my friends and I struggle to get out in the day because I am just so tired. I know this won't be forever but at the moment I am just tired and drained. It's starting to affect my mental health, my clarity and even my relationship with my husband. He tries to help me out but he doesn't have boobs....I actually feel quite alone in this motherhood journey so far.
My mums group are lovely but some of them have had their babies sleeping through the night since 8 weeks old! Some of them don't seem to feel the effects of sleep deprivation the way I do. Some co-sleep and just feed their babies all night. I'm not comfortable doing this...for me it's way too big of a risk and I wouldn't be able to sleep well anyway. I feel like if I talked to them about sleep training they would all judge me. Nobody even mentions those two words...I don't know what to do! I need help!
Why is it that we all have to judge each other? As mums we need support, love and encouragement. 1000 years ago mums had a tribe around them and they all helped out with the baby. Today our tribe is our mum's group, if we choose to join one.
The fact that you are not getting any sleep and it is affecting everything about your life means that you should be putting your needs first. How are you going to be that mum at the park running around with her toddler if you are not sleeping? You are not...you may get to the park but you will be sitting there thinking about when the next nap time is.
And do you know that by sleep training it means that your baby is also going to get the much needed sleep they require? Lack of sleep leads to grumpy babies and behaviour problems in toddlers. They just do not know how to handle their emotions because they are tired and running on empty.
Sleep is a gift that you can give you yourself and your baby.
The choice to sleep train your baby will never be an easy one to make but it's important to understand what it is and that it doesn't have to be scary. Sleep training does not mean leaving your baby to cry for hours and hours - the media portray the term "sleep training" in quite a negative light and therefore it is very misrepresented.
My sleep training philosophy is holistic meaning that the majority of parents experience much less crying than they ever imagined. Sleep training doesn't mean that you have to leave your baby alone! There are both gentle and cry based techniques and I offer both - the decision is up to you and what you are comfortable with.
Please do not judge mums who decide to sleep train. Maybe your baby sleeps and you have never felt the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation. Maybe your baby doesn't sleep but you are coping okay. You will never understand until you are in another mother's shoes. Be supportive. That's all there is to it.
In this video Kristen Bell (#momsplaining) explains the effects of sleep deprivation.
Lavender - New science suggests that this herb’s snooze-inducing properties are nothing to sniff at…
Lavender essential oils are on of the most studied in terms of its relaxation effects.
A Thai study looked at 20 participants and lavender’s impact on their health. It found a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. In terms of mood, those who inhaled lavender oil said they had more energy and were more relaxed. The research showed that lavender may be actually be able to alter brain waves and reduce stress.
A small study done in an Indianapolis hospital found that lavender aromatherapy helped reduce anxiety and depression in women with postnatal depression.
Researchers at the University of Southampton in Britain tracked the sleep patterns of 10 adults. For a week, half of the participants slept in a room where lavender essential oil was diffused in the air throughout the night. The rest snoozed in a similar room where a placebo (sweet almond oil) was released. Then the groups switched rooms. At the end of the study, volunteers ranked the quality of their sleep with 20% stating it was better in a lavender-scented room.
Psychologists at Wesleyan University in Connecticut had 31 men and women sniff lavender essential oil one night – and then distilled water the next. Researchers monitored their sleepy cycles with brain scans and found that lavender increased slow-wave sleep, instrumental for slowing heartbeat and relaxing muscles. Subjects slept more soundly on the lavender night. The group also reported feeling more energetic the next morning.
My Boys and Me Memory Bears Australia
Do you have special clothing or a blanket that you want to keep but just sits in the closet?
Turn it into an extra special Dream Bear! This soft sweet little bear has a tummy filled with lavender and comes with a bottle of pillow dream spray.
All Lavender products come from a local farm, Yanchep Lavender here in Yanchep Perth WA.
How to get more lavender in your life:
Buying your lavender essential oil does not have to break the bank!
*If you have allergies these tips are not for you*
This blog does not provide medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health.
How Nutrition Can Affect Your Baby or Toddler’s Sleep
When a baby is not sleeping it is difficult for parents to figure out why.
Are there certain foods that can help a baby sleep better? Does infant nutrition really influence sleep? The answer to these two questions is yes. If a child is not receiving adequate nutrition during the day, then it is common to experience catnapping, resistance at sleep times, frequent night waking and persistent crying due to an unfulfilled primary need (hunger). There are various foods, which can promote sleep and a multitude of foods (and food ingredients), which can wreak havoc on sleep,
Foods such as beetroot and poultry are high in Vitamin B3 (Niacin), which can extend the REM sleep cycle and reduce middle of the night waking. Green vegetables contain magnesium, which relaxes the muscles and calms the nervous system to encourage a sleepy state. Oatmeal, whole grains, root vegetables rice and pasta are high in carbohydrates, which boost serotonin and increase tryptophan absorption ‒ both essential chemicals for sleep.
Red meat, leafy greens, and legumes contain ferritin, which is responsible for storing iron in the body. Low iron may result in a weakened immune system, disturbed sleep, difficulty linking sleep cycles, and in extreme cases – sleep disorders.
Tiny Turtle Baby Food provides all of the above nutritional needs to support your baby’s sleep. Their stage 1 starter pack contains a great variety of greens, root vegetables and beetroot. These are 100% pure vegetables (not even water is added to the puree) that give your baby exposure to both sweet and savoury tastes as well as giving them those very essential nutrients to promote sleep.
100% Organic Vegies Starter Pack
(7 x pumpkin cubes, 7 x broccoli cubes, 7 x cauliflower cubes, 7 x beetroot cubes, 7 x red capsicum cubes)
You can buy this starter pack here
Their stage 2 foods all contain chicken broth, which makes this such a beneficial product as it contains glycine along with other amino acids and minerals (calcium, magnesium and phosphorous), which work together to help with restful sleep. From the list of ingredients below, you will see that each product contains essential foods that support and foster sleep.
Organic Chicken, Green Vegetable and Brown Rice Risotto
Chicken, broccoli, peas, brown rice, chicken bone broth
Organic Beef, Vegetables and Apricot Stew
Beef, carrot, celery, potato, beans, onion, apricots, paprika, chicken bone broth
Organic Lamb, Vegetables and Quinoa
Lamb, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, quinoa, onion chicken bone broth
You can buy all these products here
Are there foods I should not feed my baby?
Foods that discourage sleep are things that contain excess salt such as those in processed foods and snacks - they can make little ones extra thirsty before bed and overnight, interfering with sleep. Processed sugars can cause a fluctuation of blood sugar levels. Immediately after eating a sugary snack our blood sugar levels increase. A short while later, they will fall significantly. In order to try to stabilise blood sugar levels, the body forces the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. It is this hormone that can cause children to awaken once they have already fallen asleep. Processed meats, soy products and some hard cheeses contain high levels of tyramine, which causes the brain to release a chemical that makes us feel alert. Parmesan is one of the cheeses to avoid.
So I’m feeding my baby the right things, what next?
Feeding alone won’t prevent a child from waking overnight, and it is important that other areas such as sleeping environment, routine and emotional well-being are not overlooked. Prior to dropping feeds, or night weaning, your child’s readiness – such as age and their daily nutritional intake must be considered. Growth spurts (commonly at three, six, and nine months), developmental milestones, varying activity levels, illness and teething can influence appetite, nutritional needs and sleeping ability. Similarly, if your child is underweight or was born prematurely, they may have additional requirements for daytime and/or overnight feeds in the first 12 months and beyond.
NUTRITION AND SLEEP CAN NEVER BE SEPARATED
You can never separate sleep and nutrition. To initiate restful sleep, we need to encourage that our children eat foods that are sleep-inducing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin. Traditionally, these are foods rich in Tryptophan and B complex vitamins. Growth hormones are also released when we sleep and these are essential for not only growth but also healing and repair. Omega 3, Iron, Zinc and Magnesium are crucial for good quality sleep.
Sleep is vital for all humans to be healthy as it is when we recharge so we are at our personal best. Bad sleeping habits are linked to obesity, poor performance, ADHD, car accidents… and much more! If your child isn’t sleeping well, you’re likely not to sleep well either and this could be detrimental to your health as well as your child’s! However, if addressed early on, sleep problems can be overcome.
The below list is just a guide for those of you thinking about night weaning. Your baby may naturally start sleeping all night and you may never have to consciously night wean your baby yourself – and that’s great! When your baby starts to night wean or when you decide your baby is ready to night wean is a really individual decision and definitely one you shouldn’t be comparing with friends or your mum’s group – some babies sleep through from 12 weeks of age and some are still having one night feed at 9 months. Some mums want to carry on night feeding even though their baby might be ready to stop – night times are quiet and it allows some bonding time with their bub, especially if they have gone back to work and really miss spending time with their baby during the day. This is why this topic is so individual – it is up to YOU when you want to stop – you will know when it is time.
How do I know if my baby is ready to night wean?
Sometimes night weaning is more emotional for mum than anyone else. Those warm baby cuddles in the middle of the night are just so beautiful and it can be quite a hard decision to give that up. For others who simply want their full night’s sleep back it can be easy.
Due to the fact that you are still feeding at night your body will still be producing the hormones prolactin and oxytocin (responsible for breastfeeding). It is these hormones that allow us to go back to sleep easily after a night feed as they make us feel relaxed. Once you decide to stop feeding at night, your body will stop making these hormones and you can become quite tearful and emotional as your body adapts. You are more likely to feel this change if you cut all night feeds “cold turkey” vs. gradually cutting down the amount or timing of the feeds over the course of around a week.
How do you night wean?
The key to night weaning is being consistent – if you decide to wean then stick with it. It can be really exhausting, especially if you are spending a fair amount of time resettling your baby for the first few nights. Giving in and feeding them to get back to sleep is called “inconsistent reinforcement” and sends very mixed messages, which are confusing for your baby.
There are a couple of ways that you can night wean:
The important thing to remember when resettling without a feed is not to introduce any other negative sleep association such as rocking, patting or holding. Water can also be a negative sleep association as your baby may still wake for the water – the comfort is in the act of the sucking, not in what they are getting out of the bottle. Your resettling efforts should be structured in such a way that you can do less and less over the course of a few days or a week so that your baby learns to go back to sleep on their own.
As a sleep consultant I can be really helpful during the process as I can provide you with settling tools and a night weaning schedule to make the process easy and stress free. I am a mum and I understand how hard it is to give up those beautiful, sweet cuddles in the night but I also understand how hard it is waking up multiple times a night for months on end!
Mums tell us how they night weaned
“My son did so by himself, at 8 months, with no intervention from me and I was fine feeding him up until that point.”
“We used my husband to do the resettling in the night and that worked quite well.”
“I dropped my daughter’s night feeds when she was 7 months. I'd had weeks of getting up 5+ times a night and her only settling on the breast, never for my hubby. One day I worked out that I'd fed her 14 times in 24 hours and only 4 of those were in daylight! She stopped cold turkey and we taught her to self-settle with some controlled crying at the same time. She's basically slept through ever since (illness, teething, nightmares aside).”
“We have had some success in him dropping his first feed by sending my husband in to settle him as he doesn't smell of yummy milk. We set a 'not before' time every night that got progressively later until his first night feed just got so close to his second one that he dropped it. If he woke at 2am and the not before time was 3am, my husband would just pat/shh/dummy intermittently until the feed time. Sometimes he would doze off, sometimes not, but my son isn't much of a crier. He would more just lie in bed and grizzle so it wasn't too emotionally trying for us.”
Lauryn Stanlake - Infant and Child Sleep Consultant