Providing a Safe, Nurturing Haven for your Baby or Toddler is More Important than Sleep Routines
Being a more “go-with-the-flow” type of person, I was never much for routines or structure as a mom. I could never quite get a solid routine going for my daughter’s bedtime, even though all the books and articles touted bedtime routines as important to establishing good sleep patterns. I co-slept with my baby and I was so tired that I often went to bed the same time. And when she had her own bed in her own room, I would lie down next to her and snuggle with her and sing to her before she fell asleep. So I guess that was our bedtime “routine”.
Now there is some new research that being emotionally receptive is more important than establishing routines in reducing sleep disruptions and helping infants and toddlers sleep better.
For Infant Sleep, Receptiveness More Important Than Routine
Bedtime and going to sleep can be an emotional time for kids, particularly babies and toddlers. We need to provide reassurance through emotional communication, as this study suggests. Nursing right before bed while gazing into your baby’s eyes and singing or talking softly will establish a safe haven. A baby needs this connection to be able to let go and fall asleep for long periods of time.
Not only at bedtime, but throughout the day, we can provide as much close physical and emotional contact as possible, i.e., holding, cuddling, massaging, rocking, carrying, co-sleeping. Facial expressions, actions, and talking that mirrors to babies that they are valuable and their needs truly matter are also important and lets them know they are safe to fall asleep at night.
However, as we take a look at this study, what we do NOT need to do is provide yet another guilt trip for mothers. After a long day of working and giving and showing up for everyone else, it can be very challenging to be calm and centered with your child when you really need time for yourself. And if you’re impatient your child will pick up on this energy and get tense and anxious, making the whole thing a lot more difficult.
What I’d like to propose is that it’s not about self-sacrifice at all. It’s about meeting the needs of the mother-child relationship and that includes YOU. Self-care for mothers is an essential component to this whole conversation. Somehow we need to find the time and space to nurture ourselves as much as possible to be able to nurture our babies. And I think both can be done at the same time. It really depends on how you go into it.
After spending some time cuddling and snuggling with my daughter before she went to sleep, I was usually more energized to go about the rest of my evening. It gave me that little bit of downtime that I needed.
I also remember whenever I gave my baby a massage, it was heaven for me, too if I allowed it to be. I put on soft music, added calming essential oils to the lotion and leaned back in the rocking chair with her on my lap. I had learned the techniques for baby massage but I needed let go of having to do it right. Whenever I relaxed into it, my baby would relax too and then it would be easy and meditative for me.
When we nurture our babies in this way it’s not a one-way street. What we receive back is that calm, peaceful baby energy that is really nurturing to us as well. What gets in the way of this is our own mind chatter – thinking about all the stuff there is to do. But if you can take a half hour and create a nurturing space for both you and your baby, it can be a delightful, rejuvenating experience.
Perhaps you can let go of your day and of what you feel you need to do the rest of your evening and just melt into that special time with your child, taking those moments to regenerate yourself while nurturing your baby. It doesn’t’ matter if your child is not interested in the book you’re trying to read to him or wants to go along with the program the way you think it should be. What does matter is your connection and the calm energy between you. So why not soak this up and take it in? Instead of worrying about all the specifics of a routine, just let yourself relax into the energy of your child and allow this time to be a nurturing time for both of you. You can soak up that sweet energy and use it to calm and nurture yourself. This special time of unwinding for both you and your baby might be something you can look forward to each night.
Of course you also need you own time for yourself. Read about some ways you can make this happen:
The Art of Self-Care for Mothers
I’d love to hear your experiences with nurturing your baby to sleep as well as what you do to nurture yourself. It was probably different for me since I was a single mom from the start and I only had one child. I didn’t have a husband or other kids who also needed my attention. It may be more challenging for you in your situation. Please share your experiences and insight in the comments below.