Sleep. We all need it and parenting can be challenging when you and your child aren’t getting enough. That’s why we connected with our friends at Tinyhood to get some advice directly from a sleep expert on their team.
Natalie Willis is an expert out of Portland, OR who has helped over 10,000 babies and toddlers. Her methods are backed by thorough scientific data and years of professional experience. As a parent of two, Natalie knows that sleep is not a luxury, but a necessity to survive and thrive.
Here’s what she shared with us:
Do you have any favorite wind down methods to get babies and toddlers ready for bedtime?
For infants and toddlers, I like to keep the bedtime routine to no more than 30 minutes, starting with a feeding and followed by any other bedtime-related activities (including bath).
As kids get older, it’s easy for bedtime routines to get drawn out and kids tend to become anxious the longer the routine lasts as they try to delay bedtime, so keeping things concise is wise. Don’t worry about keeping lights too low or trying to get your baby drowsy during the routine. Standing with them in a dark room with loud white noise immediately before putting them in the crib can be all that most kids need to know it’s time to go to bed.
For older kids, say 3-4 years and older, allowing them to play in a room with a 15 watt light bulb for 15 minutes before bedtime can help their melatonin kick in and make going to sleep a lot easier.
Do you have any favorite sleep products that you recommend?
Keeping things simple is key. A dark room, loud white noise, an empty crib, and a video monitor placed entirely out of your child’s reach is all kids need to sleep safely and soundly.
What is the most important thing when it comes to sleep safety?
Empty cribs! No question. Absolutely no objects in the crib except a tightly fitting mattress, a tightly fitted sheet, and baby. No blankets, lovies, mesh or padded bumpers, or mobiles should be in your child’s crib. Also make sure to keep your child’s crib away from curtains, cords, or anything else they could pull into their crib.
Is there anything you want other parents to know that might be surprising?
If your child is over the age of four months, is otherwise healthy and thriving, but is having issues sleeping, the culprit is likely that they’re not an independent sleeper (meaning they don’t know how to go from being awake to being asleep without the help of a caregiver, a sleep prop, or both). Finding a trusted resource, like Tinyhood’s Sleep 101: The Baby Sleep Solution, is likely all you need to learn how to teach your child to fall asleep on their own. Once they have that skill down for naps and bedtime, they should be able to put themselves back to sleep when they wake overnight.
How many naps should infants be taking, and when?
There’s no hard and fast rule for newborns, though limit naps to no more than 90-120 minutes at a stretch. From 4-7 months aim for 3 naps, 7 to about 14-18 months aim for 2 naps, then 1 nap through to age 3 to 4.
What are your thoughts on sleeping positions? What should we encourage vs. stay away from?
First and foremost, reposition your child immediately if you’re not certain they can breathe easily. Otherwise, ask your pediatrician what to do when your baby rolls to their belly during sleep or while falling asleep and follow their advice. Generally speaking, if you’re not certain your baby is safe, reposition them.
If you could only give one piece of advice to new parents, what would it be?
It’s not about finding peer parent friends that parent like you do, it’s about finding friends who understand that raising infants and toddlers can be complete chaos, that we’re all doing our best, and that support you in you doing whatever you think is best for your family (even if it’s the complete opposite of what they’d do for their own kids). Also, be that friend to everyone else you know with kids as well.
If you're looking for more support on sleep routines for babies and toddlers, check out Tinyhood’s resources and courses, all led by experts like Natalie.