Raise your hand if you’ve struggled through sleepless nights with your kids at one point or another. Now, for the 99.9% of you who have your hand up, we’ve got some great news! Today we’re chatting with Meredith Brough, mom of five and the founder of Sweet Slumber LLC. Meredith is a sleep consultant, offering a Successful Sleep program dedicated to helping mothers of children from 4 weeks to 6 years old with her gentle, “no cry” methods that support intuitive parenting practices to meet children’s needs. Her tips and tricks have been proven successful time and time again, and we hope that you, our Iowa City Moms readers, can find help for your families after reading through her answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that she receives from parents struggling to get their kids (and themselves) a good night’s sleep.
What does “sleep training” even mean?
Sleep Training is the process of training young children to fall asleep alone and to stay asleep at night. It typically involves leaving them to cry without being comforted which can be difficult for moms and children to endure.
There are positive ways to teach young children to sleep well, too. I teach mothers of babies, toddlers and children (4 weeks to 6 years old) to follow a sensitive and gentle approach that forms permanent sleep habits smoothly. My clients teach their little ones to sleep well and sleep all night by drawing from nature, building trust and security, offering reassurance, and conforming to their children’s unique needs and personalities.
When can you start sleep training or teaching babies to sleep well?
Using my gentle, “no-cry” methods means parents can begin shaping their children’s sleep habits as early as 4-6 weeks old or when parents are ready. While babies are young, they are more teachable and flexible, so the sooner the process begins, the better. Starting to build skills in the early months can also make the process easier because there are fewer disruptions that affect babies’ moods and sleep. In the first few months or so, there are shorter mental leaps (1 week long instead of several weeks), a lower chance of teething, and fewer physical milestones. In the later months, it is still possible to work through disruptions, when children have cooperative moods during the day. It is worth the effort because after sleep habits are established, parents and babies receive the benefits of high quality sleep, naps grow longer, and sleep disruptions caused by mental leaps and teething decrease.
Do you only work with babies or can your services help my toddler sleep through the night too?
I coach parents of toddlers and small children, too. I offer services and support for 3 age groups: Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers. Toddlers are often the most resistant to change. But, since I teach parents to be creative and a bit sneaky in making changes, my program is a perfect fit for your toddler. My support and guidance is invaluable to parents during intense spells of teething and mental leaps between 12-24 months. I love helping parents sleep well after months or years of exhaustion. I also teach parents how to improve their toddlers’ and young children’s behavior.
I don’t believe in cry-it-out. But, I need my child to sleep. Can you help?
This is my specialty! I am passionate about using gentle methods that bring peace AND progress. (It is very hard to find sleep consultants who fully support non-crying methods.) I created 6 of my own methods for babies and toddlers that eliminate crying, support the bond that you have with your child, create more security, and produce a feeling of safety and peace in the crib and bedroom. My methods for children work the same way. I am thrilled to offer you gentle and effective alternatives to crying methods!
I also work with couples who don’t want to co-sleep anymore or who want to continue co-sleeping but need to improve the family’s quality of sleep.
What are some bad habits I should avoid? For example, I always hear that it’s bad to nurse and rock my baby to sleep.
There is nothing wrong with nursing and rocking babies to sleep. But, empowering children to fall asleep on their own at nap-time and bedtime leads to connecting sleep cycles at night (when they are feeling well). This might mean sacrificing some closeness and affection during these times. Sleep deprived parents believe it is worth the sacrifice to help their children sleep well at night. During times of distress and discomfort, feel free to comfort your child the way that is most effective, especially at night. When sleep disruptions fizzle out, children with strong sleep habits and a sense of security will return to their beds and sleep soundly. Would you like to respond to your child at night feeling reassured and confident, instead of nervous and anxious?
Remember that rocking can be a useful tool, too. For high energy or affectionate children, a few minutes of rocking can help them relax before going to sleep for naps and bedtime. Stop rocking before your child gets very sleepy, or slow down and stop intermittently, then get up to move to the bed.
Do all children have sleep regressions? When and what should I expect during a regression?
No, not all children go through sleep regressions! Personality traits, levels of sensitivity and physical attachment, and the strength of your child’s sleep habits will affect how sensitive he or she is to internal and physical changes.
During sleep regressions, children are actually progressing! They are learning mentally, cognitively, physically, growing bigger and taller, and teething. Recognizing when these various stages are happening will give you patience and understanding as you allow them to run their course, peace of mind knowing they are temporary and natural, and the tools/knowledge to meet your child’s needs. Learn more about this topic in the next answer.
My child used to sleep really well, then suddenly it all fell apart. What did I do wrong?
When sleep suddenly changes, there is always a reason. You did nothing wrong! Mental leaps, teething, growth spurts, the period of separation anxiety around 28 weeks, and physical milestones are the reasons for weeks or months of sleep disruptions. You can offer relief and comfort to help them feel better during these times, and it’s important to take care of yourself the best that you can!
Week-long periods of mental development take place every month for a week or longer, until babies are 3 months old. Leaps lengthen out to 4-6 weeks, occurring every other month or two, until 17 months, when they slow down a bit. The Wonder Weeks app can be a helpful tool, but the predictions can be off. After 18 months, there is little information available; you can assume that if your child is acting more grown up and clingy and sleep is a mess, it is probably because of a leap.
Teething pain comes in waves, is confusing and can happen at any time. If your child bites down hard on toys and your finger, he or she is probably teething. Teeth can pop out in 1 short week or take months to emerge. During teething, children can be greatly impacted by pain and discomfort, affecting sleep, appetite, and moods.
During sleep disruptions, schedules can be off, children tend to fight their sleep, act wired and feel awake despite sleep cues, take short naps, skip naps, wake often, act very clingy, fussy, cranky, and get up too early. They prefer sleeping in your arms or next to you. During these tough times, offer extra comfort and be patient. When your child is cooperative, build sleep habits during naps and bedtime. After your child learns to sleep deeply, the sleep disruptions will decrease.
My newborn sleeps too much during the day and is awake almost the whole night. How can I fix this?
Newborns need to sleep most of the day and the night. But, your infant does need to be awake some of the time for about 15-20 minutes and up to 45 minutes for some, in between naps. Limit each nap to 2 hours during the day. This will help your child eat often and have adequate awake time, even if it is just 20-30 minutes. Some babies are hard to wake. Try laying your baby on the floor (safely) to see if he or she stirs naturally. As soon as you can, begin the day within 30 minutes of the same time in the morning.
Take advantage of sunlight to help your baby know the difference between night and day. Take your baby outside in the morning when weather permits and open the curtains in between morning wake-time, naps and bedtime. Your child’s body will become regulated and know the difference between day and night. All of these steps will lead to better nights of sleep!
My child either refuses to take naps or only takes short naps. How do I change this?
This problem occurs frequently during sleep disruptions like mental leaps or teething. If your child has been struggling with naps for a while, there are a few things you should know. It’s normal for newborns up to 3-4 months old to take 30-45 min naps and be fully rested. At 4 months, their sleep consolidates on its own and regular sleep cycles begin.
Teach your baby to feel secure in bed and the bedroom so it becomes relaxing, natural, and comfortable to be in there. This small thing can make a really big difference. Children need just the right amount of wake-time in between naps, based on their individual needs. Some babies have very subtle cues and need their nap routines to start early. Other little ones have more obvious cues and parents need to identify which cues (and how many) signal the best timing for sleep. While your baby’s or toddler’s naps are improving, it is better to have frequent naps often, rather than keeping them up too long. After all of these steps, the last resort should be to extend each wake window by 15-30 minutes. This can work well when children are well-rested. Helping your child learn to fall asleep alone is important, too, because that is how your little one will start connecting sleep cycles to extend naps!
How can I teach my child to self-soothe without making them cry it out?
There is evidence that shows that children cannot truly ”self-soothe” until they are 4-5 years old. But, there are some children with laid back, easy going personalities that seem to have an inner sense of security. These children are easy to teach sleep habits to. Pop in a pacifier, add a swaddle or sleep sack and some white noise and a child like this might learn to fall asleep without help. “Drowsy but awake” might also work well. All of the other personality types need their parents to regulate their emotions for them, in various ways. Many children need physical closeness to calm and relax them, others need motion. Some sensitive children need their own space without physical contact.
The way that you teach your child to fall asleep should include a calming technique that is effective for his or her needs AND should help your child learn HOW to fall asleep. I have 6 of my own independent sleep methods for babies and toddlers that include these 2 steps, plus they teach children the last 2 essential skills: feeling trust and security when they are alone. Teach the independent sleep method during naps and bedtime, not at night. Allow a short amount of wait time (just a few minutes) during night awakenings to allow your child to connect sleep cycles. If you go through these steps, your child will feel at peace in bed and it will be easier to fall back asleep without your help. When your child doesn’t feel well, you will respond as needed, and the good habits will remain, because you have taken the time to lay a foundation.
How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?
- Help your child take optimal or frequent naps.
- Set up a peaceful bedtime routine in the same order at the same time.
- Use white noise and a swaddle or sleep sack.
- Remove white, yellow or LED lights and use a salt lamp or orange Hatch light, instead.
- Teach your child to feel secure with or without you by offering crib and bedroom play time.
- Teach your child to fall asleep alone, so that he or she can connect sleep cycles at night.
- Around 4-6 months, you can begin night weaning the remaining feedings, slowly. Offer night feedings during growth spurts and for comfort, as needed.
- During the night, teach your child to wait for a few minutes for you to respond, so that he or she can connect sleep cycles. Then respond as needed. Connecting sleep cycles will come.
- Have your partner respond if you are the one your child prefers.
How do I get my 2 year old to sleep through the night?
- Allow your child to keep a sippy cup of water nearby.
- To help your child sleep well at night, children this age generally need 1 nap.
- Set up boundaries and expectations around bedtime and night-time sleep.
- In the night, don’t interact with your child during awakenings. Walk your child to bed or tuck him or her back in lovingly, say very little, and be calm and neutral. Soothe your child, comfort him or her. But, don’t make it fun.
- When children learn to relax in their beds, fall asleep without help, and feel secure alone, they connect sleep cycles on their own and reach restorative, quality sleep. Sleep usually lengthens out naturally for 10-12 hours a night for young children.
It takes my child forever to fall asleep at bedtime. What can I do to change this?
Getting the timing of bedtime right based on your child’s sleep cues, is a powerful solution to lengthy bedtime battles. Include an activity that slows your child’s body down as part of the routine, turn the lighting low, use calm voices, continuous white noise or music, and keep the routine in the same order around the same time every night. Each of these elements will become cues that help your child fall asleep easier. Try not to stimulate your child, and be neutral and firm in setting boundaries. Bedtime will go even better when your child feels secure in the bedroom and learns to fall asleep alone.
My child wakes up way too early. What can I do to change this?
The #1 cause: a large number of children who wake early are going through mental leaps and/or teething, this will work itself out. The #1 solution in other cases: If your baby or toddler is sleeping less than 11-12 hours between bedtime and wake-time (or less than 10-12 hours for young children), move your bedtime earlier by 15 minutes and hold it there for several days (4-7 days). This can be repeated again. People don’t usually leave the early bedtime in place long enough for their children’s bodies to adjust. The key is to put them to bed earlier so they sleep better and deeper, which leads to a later wake-time.
Also, look closely at the frequency and length of naps. When the balance is off, it can cause early morning wake-ups. When your child falls asleep without help and can connect sleep cycles, sleep may naturally extend in the morning, too. Offer a “snooze button” feeding to babies between 4-6 AM, because not all of them can sleep for 10-12 hours between feedings.
How much time and money should I expect to spend on sleep training services?
If you visit my website you will find a Gentle Methods Workshop for $75 and consultations that range from $100-200, depending on the amount of support desired. My online program is my most popular service, which includes all of the tools that every parent needs to create optimal sleep habits for their child, including a customized plan and initial email support. The sessions run for 5 weeks. This program is $600 (discounts available) and has add-on options. (Please visit the web-site to check current pricing.) I take a few clients a month who want more “hand-holding,” as well. We work together for 4 to 8 weeks over weekly 1:1 coaching sessions and frequent emailing. You can set up a free 30-minute consult to discuss your goals and learn more about my services.
I can’t wait to share my effective and gentle tools, so that you can transform your child’s sleep habits permanently and feel whole again!
About Meredith: My husband and I have been married for 23 years and are proud parents of five children (ranging from 12 to 20 years old). My family is very important to me, and I love spending time with them whenever possible. We spend a lot of time outside, on the lake, and in the kitchen cooking and eating together. I relax by playing the piano, going for walks, learning new things and writing. I have worked with babies and young children for over 30 years in various roles at home, childcare and school. My work as a pediatric sleep expert is something that I’m passionate about. I love inspiring and lifting women, teaching them to trust their instincts and helping them find fulfillment as mothers. I adore working with families and seeing children thrive because of their strong sleep habits!About Sweet Slumber: Sweet Slumber, LLC was founded in 2017 by Meredith Brough who, over the course of 15 years, succeeded in establishing strong sleep habits for her own children and several of her friends and daycare clients. When Meredith realized the impact she could have on the lives of mothers, she dedicated herself to being a sleep consultant full-time. Through her Successful Sleep program, she guides mothers of children from 4 weeks to 6 years old, by instructing and mentoring them in their homes, on the phone or video conferencing and with her online courses. She has coached women from all over the world, including 33 states, 5 Canadian provinces, and 21 countries. Meredith has now supported over 350 families professionally and has served countless others worldwide in her Successful Sleep Facebook Group. She is devoted to using her own gentle, “no-cry”, methods that support intuitive parenting practices to meet children’s needs. Meredith specializes in supporting mothers of children with high needs or challenging personalities, and women with postpartum mental health disorders.