Drowsy But Awake? Are you Kidding Me?
No, but I do realise that this is much easier said than done.
When reading just about anything written about infant sleep you will see the recommendation to put your baby down “drowsy but awake”, yet in reality, this can seem impossible and many parents (like me, with my first baby) just don’t. The majority of new parents will realise pretty quickly that if baby isn’t out-for-the-count when they do the stealth move of transferring baby from their arms into their crib or cot, that their little eyes pop open and they may be back to square one of rocking or walking baby back to sleep again.
This approach is absolutely what a young baby needs and parents should do what they need to do to get their baby to sleep. The unfortunate reality is, though, that as your baby grows, if they are always put into bed completely asleep, they won’t realise that they have been put into bed until they come into a lighter phase of sleep or a partial wakening. This is when baby realises where they are – and they don’t like it one little bit. Well, would you? If you fell asleep on the couch with the TV on and woke up in your bed with no recollection of how you got there?
So, this why we sleep specialists will tell you that “drowsy but awake” is so important. It is so that baby does realise that they are going into bed, and that they are OK with it.
But, you may well say, my baby hates it when I put them into their crib – they cry and get very upset and I have to pick them up again!
The answer is to take a gradual and relaxed approach to this. Start when baby is 6 weeks old or so. Try putting them down when you know that they are tired but before they are fully asleep; almost asleep but not quite. Do it once a day or so. Don’t get stressed if it doesn’t work. Pick them up again and get them to sleep in the usual way. Try again tomorrow. This is all about learning for them and for you too. If it works even once in a while you are laying the groundwork for them to learn to fall asleep in their own bed as their sleeping abilities mature. Start out trying when they are very very drowsy – almost asleep, and if you find that this is working, then try when they are a fraction less drowsy. Practice this over the following weeks and months.
Once your baby reaches 4 months or so you may find that they resist their bed and going into bed awake (this should be a little less if you have been practicing the above, but all babies are little individuals and there are never any guarantees). This is because they are now very alert and are starting to learn the concept of cause and effect i.e. if I cry and fuss, Mummy or Daddy will pick me up again. If your baby is resisting going into their bed anything other than fast asleep, try putting them down drowsy and then immediately soothing them in their cot, sit beside them and shush and stroke or pat or rock them a little if they are in a rocking crib. You may just get lucky. If it doesn’t work, try again next time. Your baby needs time to learn the skill of falling asleep on their own.
Little by little… baby steps.