Learning to listen when my baby wasn’t sleeping

In this guest post, Tariqa explains how she changed her approach over time and learned to listen more to what her babies really needed.

As a mum of two young boys, I’ve spent plenty of time searching for advice on how to help them sleep well, especially when they were babies. There are many different techniques you can try, and it’s hard to know which is best. In my experience, the worst advice I received was that following a strict, inflexible routine would result in a calm, contented baby – a plan which just left me and my baby stressed out and exhausted.

When it became clear that my firstborn son was not what you would call a good sleeper, I took to the internet for advice. I found a so-called baby sleep expert who claimed their fool-proof method would get any baby to sleep through the night, stop catnapping, and self-settle without needing help to drift off ever again. They who had a huge number of parent testimonials singing their praises, and several celebrities (or their nannies) followed the plan with their children. Following their routine meant you’d have a happy baby in no time, and if the plan didn’t work for you, you must be doing it wrong.

I gave it my best shot, but it wasn’t the magic bullet I’d been promised. My baby slept even less than he did before, and I felt incredibly guilty for “doing it wrong”. I eventually realised that trying to follow this strict sleep training method made me feel stressed and unhappy, which in turn made my baby stressed and unhappy too – not a situation conducive to settling him to sleep. Exhausted and discouraged, I decided to give it up for the sake of my own sanity. Instead of trying to force my baby into a rigid routine and expect him to sleep at the “right” time, with military precision, I started listening to his needs.

Once my son realised I’d come to him when he needed me, he became much calmer. Sleep time was less of a battle, and he started to self-settle when he woke at night as well. Though we had some difficult times when he was teething or unwell, he actually became more self-sufficient once he realised he could depend on me for comfort and support.

Today my eldest boy is five years old, and a fantastic sleeper! When it’s time for lights-out I’ll lie down in bed next to him for a few minutes while we talk about the day we’ve had and our plans for tomorrow. Then I’ll leave him to drift off by himself, and he sleeps solidly through the night. I’m not trapped by his bedside all night like I was told I’d be if I didn’t follow that strict routine to the letter. Providing comfort and responding to my son’s needs when he was a baby and toddler means that I now have a child who feels secure and content to settle himself to sleep now.

This is not to say that there’s no point in trying to establish routines or use any particular strategies to settle your baby to sleep, but rather as parents we should be flexible and take care of each child based on their individual personalities and needs, as outlined in a blog post from Psychology Today. A one-size-fits-all approach didn’t work for my child – and if it truly worked for everyone, wouldn’t everyone be doing it? If your baby has trouble sleeping, seek help and support to find ways to settle your baby to sleep, but make sure that the strategies and techniques you’re given fit your baby’s and your family’s needs.

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