By Caroline Radford & Caroline McMahon- 29 August 2014
When we are working with babies, we are well aware that many babies have a sense that can be quite dominant. For example, some babies are more visual than others; some are auditory; while others are tactile. Some babies are a combination of a few strong senses, all making each baby unique. Babies use their ‘feelings’ to identify things. When they ‘feel’ a certain way, they will fall asleep.
It was while having a discussion around these issues with a mother, that I described her baby as a ‘technical baby’. Its not a negative term, just an adjective to describe that we could leave no stone unturned when addressing the issues with her baby.
For example, many babies sleep just fine by falling asleep on the breast, or having a dummy to settle. Babies who find it difficult to fall asleep with a sleep association, and then not be able to recreate that feeling again themselves, are not uncommon.
It is when mothers ring to say their baby falls asleep independently, that no feed or sleep props are involved in sleep and that they contently roll over and put themselves to sleep at every single sleep, BUT continue to nap in the day and wake frequently all night- that we have to dig a little deeper in our consultations. The parent is often very frustrated and can’t work out why or what to do to help their baby sleep longer at both day and night. The parents, and mother in particular, will take this frustration very personally as they just can’t work out what more they could do to improve their baby’s sleep. The parents are reading everything and following as many rules of healthy sleep habits as they can, and still their child is wakeful.
It is when we begin to consider whether we have a ‘technical baby’ on our hands. These technical babies tend to be quite bright and inquisitive. They seem extremely sensitive to how they feel during their sleep. One of the rules of healthy sleep is that not only do babies need to fall asleep in the same place as they wake up, but they also need to ‘feel’ the same way when they wake as they did going to sleep.
For many older babies who are crawling or walking, they are put to bed laying down with their comfort toy in the hands (if they use one), their parents say good night and leaves them to blissfully fall off to sleep. Sounds good. The problem then occurs later in the night, when the baby is practising in their light phases of sleep what they are trying to master during the day, that the baby will find themselves upright either sitting or standing. Then the baby becomes confused, because when he went to sleep, he was lying down with his comforter and now he is standing up and cant find it. This is technical.
In this case we need to introduce the baby to going to sleep being an upright position with the comforter somewhere randomly in the bed. The baby then needs to work out how to get into a sleep position from being upright. When they wake in the night in the same position it becomes normal for them to work out how to return to sleep unaided.
Another example may be a baby who has quite a strong visual sense. It is very important as they grow and develop, as they will have an eye for detail. However, falling asleep or going back to sleep may be extremely difficult for them if they have mobiles or bright colored toys or even your face in their line of sight. This baby may really need 10-15 minutes to really get away from those big flat screens we all have now and wind down pre-sleep and their sleep space really adjusted for light and color.
We met a 4 month old baby recently who could not close his eyes all the while as he was staring at a red biscuit tin. Amazingly, as soon as we moved the tin, he settled much better.
The take home message is:
1. Watch you baby
2. See what seems to stir or unsettle them from their sleep.
3. Try a small adjustment to their individual sleep space or routine to help them to sleep better.