Are You Really Listening to Your Baby?


Attentive parents notice when their baby is keen to try solid foods or learn to walk. They readily give her finger foods and a high chair or a baby-proofed space and a hand to hold when she expresses an interest in honing these new skills.

And it's a good thing too, as insisting on spoon feeding or carrying a baby that wants to try it herself only ends in serious frustration.

The fascinating thing is that these same attentive parents often can't tell when their child is ready to try falling asleep for herself and so they continue "spoon-feeding" their baby her sleep even as it becomes increasingly frustrating for everyone involved.

Been there, done that.

With my first baby, I was determined to be connected and tuned-in. I prided myself on meeting his every need and knowing all his preferences; I doted and adored as is only natural. I read about all the upcoming milestones and spent every waking moment (and many sleeping ones) listening and observing, but I didn't once hear him tell me why he was increasingly difficult to put to sleep nor what to do about it.

Everyone says: "listen to your baby." But all good parents listen to their babies. The key is to know what to listen for. No one tells you this.

Is Sleep Easy?

This is the question to ask yourself when determining if baby is ready to practice honing her sleep skills.

Yes? Then you're giving your baby just the right kind of sleep for where she's at right now.

No? Then it's time to make some changes so that sleep can be easy and enjoyable for everyone involved.

"Wha??? Did she just say baby sleep can be easy?!"

Yep. But don't hate me - this is good news!

And I don't say it to belittle anyone's sleep deprivation (I've been there - it's roughhhhhhhh); I say it to change the dominant narrative so we can stop underestimating our babies and even start avoiding the need to ever do any kind of sleep training with our next babies.

Baby sleep is usually horrendous when we teach our babies that sleep is too hard for them to handle by always doing it for them.

Here are six common ways babies tell us it's time for a sleep change:

  • naps are less than 1-hour long
  • naps don't really happen or lack any consistency 
  • bedtime takes longer than 30 minutes
  • once in bed it takes your child more than 20 minutes to fall asleep
  • child goes to bed easily but wakes 30-60 minutes later
  • child sleeps for a few hours but then wakes every 1-2 hours until morning

These are not just examples of typical baby sleep but rather your baby communicating with her actions.

But What About Sleep Regressions?

It seems nearly every age of babyhood is assigned a corresponding sleep regression, warning parents that at any time their child's sleep could suddenly deteriorate for absolutely no reason.

I prefer to call it "growing up" and there's a very good reason why baby's sleep gets worse: she doesn't really know how to do it yet but what used to work isn't really doing the trick like it used to so she's frustrated.

For instance, between 2-6 months babies that have not been introduced to the fact that falling asleep is easy will often begin waking more in the night or have a harder time settling. You can call it the "Four Month Sleep Regression" but it's really that these babies are ready to be put to bed like a baby and not exclusively rocked, patted, shushed, bounced, swaddled, and fed to sleep like a newborn.

And making big positive changes with sleep has big, positive benefits. Babies that know sleep to be easy and enjoyable sleep longer and deeper simply because they know how to take the sleep they need, helping them to take challenging times (teething, illness, vaccinations, milestones, travel and the odd late bedtime) in stride.

So, yes, listen to your baby but also understand that when she becomes frustrated with the same thing a few times in a row that behaviour might just be communication.