No matter how frustrating the problems are that you encounter while teaching your child to sleep successfully on his own, just remember: there isn't one that hasn't been encountered - and solved - by other parents before you.
One of the most common problems are clingy babies, whose sleep is disrupted because they are worried about being separated from their parent.
Some babies are more clingy than others. Many become clingy at certain developmental stages: a key time is around 8 months, when your baby works out that you and he are not one and the same, but different people. Most babies deal with this realization by sticking even closer than usual to their parents; this phase tends to last for a couple of months and is known as 'separation anxiety'.
- It is a good idea to teach your baby to send himself to sleep before he gets to this stage: telling him that he has to settle himself is likely to be more difficult if he is showing anxiety whenever you leave him. However, it is not impossible to teach babies who are generally clingy to send themselves to sleep.
- Choose a strategy that gives your baby the level of reassurance you think he needs and allow more time before you judge the results. Your baby will come to understand that although you leave him, you are not abandoning him.
If you have already established a successful sleep programme, don't be surprised if it encounters a minor setback as your baby develops separation anxiety: half of all babies who are already sleeping well suffer disturbed nights between the ages of 7 and 9 months. Unfortunately, this may not be a one-off: there may be many different points throughout his first couple of years when your baby seeks extra comfort from you as he works out his place in the world -and he may ask for some of this at night.
- Revive your original sleep strategy, give your child the reassurance he needs and guide him back towards sleep. If he normally sleeps well, he will want to return to unbroken nights as much as you do, once he feels confident enough to do so.
When nothing else seems to work
If you've followed the advice so far and your baby is still refusing to settle, you may need to consider alternative strategies.
- If he had a difficult birth, he may be in discomfort. A cranial osteopath may be able to relieve the pressure in his skull by very gentle manipulation to realign his bones.
- Massage is also an effective way of relaxing anxious babies. Ask your health visitor for details of your nearest baby massage class. You may like to combine massage with aromatherapy. Choose a relaxing essential oil that is suitable for use with babies and small children (such as lavender or camomile), dilute in the correct proportions in an appropriate 'carrier' oil (such as almond oil), and massage the mixture into your baby's skin. However, you must never use essential or aromatherapy oils on your baby if he is under 3 months old without expert advice, and even after this age you must make sure you use them with proper care and caution. If you are in any doubt whether aromatherapy or a particular oil is appropriate for your child, consult a registered aroma-therapist.
- Your child may have a food sensitivity or allergy that is making it difficult for him to sleep. Keep a diary of his diet and sleep to establish any correlation yourself, or ask your doctor to refer him to a dietician.
- If your child appears restless and impulsive, he may be suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If he seems very overactive, he may have the related Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If your child is diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, ask for specialist help to devise a sleep program that will accommodate his needs.
If you haven't been able to pinpoint the problem, consult your doctor, or a specialist organization.