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The Truth About Supporting Your Child to Sleep (and an update on Lilah’s sleep!)

Episode Summary:

Lilah, my 4.5 year old, has started to fall asleep on her own! This big milestone has been the catalyst for a lot of reflection on the past few years of our sleep journey and I wanted to come on to the show today to share a bit of it with you in hopes that it will help you feel supported if it seems like you’re in the trenches of sleep (or lack of it!) each night. I’m starting off this episode by reminding you of a few of the lies the sleep industry pushes around the act of supporting children to sleep and what the truth – backed by science – actually is. Then I’m sharing how Lilah’s bedtime routine has shifted throughout the years to support us both in what we need. If you’re feeling in a rush to get your child to fall asleep independently, this next half hour is going to offer a lot of insight and next steps for you.

Topics:

  • How Brittni is being mindful of avoiding burnout by leaning into flow and freedom
  • The lies the sleep industry tells us about supporting our children to sleep 
  • The process of how Brittni’s daughter is falling asleep at 4.5 years old 
  • Why supporting children to sleep is actually a biological norm 
  • The bedtime routine that Brittni uses with Lilah and how it has changed over the years 
  • Different things that Brittni did to avoid rage at bedtime (for her and Lilah)

Resources:

Read a raw, unedited transcript of this episode.

Brittni (00:00.566)

Hi friend, how are you today? How’s sleep? How’s life with your little one? I, when you listen to this, I will be just coming back from a trip to Florida to visit one of my best mom friends that I have, well now I will have met her in real life, but we actually connected, we have the same sleep certification.

We connected over Instagram, which led to, I did a little bit of business coaching for her. And then we just like one day started like voice memo-ing each other about everything in our lives. And almost daily, we send each other like a podcast of voice memos to each other. And she just really has helped me stay sane. I would, I hope that I have done the same for her.

And so Lila and I have gone to meet her. Like I said, when you listen to this, I will be just getting back from the trip and I’m really excited about it. And as I was sitting down and thinking about how am I currently finding rest in motherhood? The trip hasn’t happened yet, but that is one way is really like leaning into relationships that nurture me. But when I dug a little bit deeper, I kind of had this like…

of like, oh my gosh, how am I finding rest in motherhood right now? And I don’t want to lie to you. So it was kind of this moment of like, I think I’m kind of in a season of get stuff done. I know I talked about how January is I like to think of it as a slow month, kind of easing into the new year, thinking of our body still as kind of like dormant during the winter.

But I have a lot of business goals this year, which I can’t wait to share more with you about, but I’m planning on launching my toddler course this fall, or not this fall, woo, this spring. And so I have a lot that I have been wanting to work on. I don’t know, I just set a lot of goals for myself. I did a lot of business planning towards the end of the year. And so I kind of hit the ground running when I returned back to work after the new year.

Brittni (02:20.522)

And so I feel like I’ve kind of been in this place of I’m nurturing my business and I’m nurturing Lila and maybe not nurturing myself as much. And you know, I’m a huge advocate of nurturing ourselves, taking care of ourselves, really prioritizing rest and self-care for ourselves. I’m also kind of in this place where to me, it doesn’t feel like self-care or rest.

if I’m doing it just to do it, if that makes sense. So I had gotten to a place where I wasn’t working after Lila went to bed at night, I would get her to bed. I would voice memo my friend Katie, the one who I’m going to see in Florida. I might voice memo some other friends, and then I would either get in bed and read or on occasional nights get in bed and watch a TV show.

But in the last few weeks, I have, like I said, I’ve been hitting the ground running. I get lie-lit asleep, I come into my office, I work for, I usually give myself a time limit, like, okay, I’m gonna work until nine. Some nights I stick to that, some nights I will get really into what I’m doing and look at the clock and be like, oh my gosh, it’s 9.30 p.m. And so it’s been a really big internal debate with myself of…

Okay, so I feel like I haven’t been prioritizing myself as much as I was. Am I gonna get to a place of burnout? And I think that the answer that I, the conclusion that I’ve come to is I’m tuning in and I’m all about tuning into our bodies. I’m all about tuning into how we’re feeling. I’m tuning into the energy inside of me right now. And I have this energy that’s like.

I have this idea, I have this go, go energy. And so I’m gonna flow with that. I’m gonna go with it. And then when I have moments where I’m like, you know what, I’m not feeling it today, I do need to prioritize myself, I’m gonna prioritize that. So this was a really long answer to how I’m currently finding rest. But I guess we could say that I’m currently finding rest and giving myself freedom and not trying to force the self-care and rest and instead just kind of flowing with where I’m at.

Brittni (04:34.722)

Hopefully that’s helpful. Hopefully you can relate to that on some degree. But I think the message here is that when we’re kind of on this journey of self-healing, of really kind of getting back into a relationship with ourselves, learning who we are, taking care of ourselves, we can almost feel like all of our self-care items or health items become this checklist.

Like I have talked a lot about how much I love journaling and lately I just have not felt the urge to journal. And at first I was feeling really guilty about it, like, oh my gosh, I need a journal. And then I was like, journaling brings me peace. I do it to bring me peace and clarity. And if I don’t feel that urge, doing it is just gonna be an item to check off my to-do list and say that I did it. So the message here would be, yes, we can do these things to take care of ourselves, but if…

we’re not actually reaping the benefits of them, are they really helpful? Now to the mama who is just getting into this, it can feel really uncomfortable to take those steps towards taking care of ourselves. So I don’t want you to not take care of yourself because it feels uncomfortable. There’s a difference between like this being new and you’re kind of finding your way.

versus you’ve kind of been in this pattern of taking care of yourself, nurturing yourself, and now you might be in a season where you’re kind of like, you know what, I’ve got the energy, I’ve got the pep. I wanna work on a project instead of using that time to, I don’t know, meditate or journal, whatever the case may be. So I guess balance. If I could sum all of that up, I would say balance. Let’s find our balance and not beat ourselves up and just flow with.

where we’re at and how we’re feeling. But the key to flowing is really being in tune with what’s going on inside of you, what is your body telling you and going from there. So what we’re gonna be talking about today is something that just kind of happened naturally over the Christmas season. It wasn’t something that I was planning on happening, which is Lila falling asleep independently.

Brittni (06:54.854)

I have supported Lila to sleep and her dad in the very early days and when they used to do sleepovers. But I have supported Lila to sleep every night of her life. Or let me rephrase this. Lila had been supported to sleep every night of her life, except for a few outlier nights where I had mom rage and I knew that if I stayed in the bedroom, I was going to scream and I…

didn’t want to scream, so I would tell her like, I’m gonna step outside and take a moment, and then she would fall asleep. But I never like made it the norm. It only kind of happened, like I said, when I was feeling that rage and I needed to just like, okay, either I’m gonna yell at her, which she doesn’t deserve, or I’m gonna go take a second and come back. And on those few occasional nights where I did step out,

some nights, I think there was like two or three maybe in her whole life, and this was after like two years of age, that she would fall asleep before I came back. But I never felt good about those because although I was stepping out before I was yelling at her, there was a general vibe in the room that I was annoyed that she was still awake, and so I never felt good about her falling

Brittni (08:20.286)

I was upset because it was taking her so long to fall asleep. And so I just kind of rode with always supporting her to sleep. I know that we live in a society where we see, like in movies or we hear about friends who just like go in they get their child dressed for bed. Maybe they read them a story. Maybe they do prayers or affirmations or whatever they do in their home. And then they kiss their child on the head and they walk out. That’s what we see, right? I mean,

Even families in the first year of life, oftentimes families will come to me with that goal. I want to be able to lay my baby in the crib and kiss them and walk out peacefully. And so we live in this society that has made us feel like that’s the norm and that’s something that we need to do. And before I jump into Lila falling asleep independently, I first want to point out that she’s four and a half years old and apart from…

maybe three or four nights where she fell asleep independently because I stepped out of the room, she had always been supported to sleep. And I think we need to understand that this isn’t something that we need to rush. Oftentimes I find when a family comes to me and they want their child to fall asleep independently, it’s not because they actually want their child to fall asleep independently. It’s usually for one of two reasons, or maybe a mix of both.

First, they feel like that’s something that their child should be doing because that’s what the sleep training industry has made them believe that in order for their child to sleep through the night, they need to be falling asleep independently. Essentially, the sleep training industry will tell us, if you support your child to sleep, they will never sleep through the night, which I can tell you firsthand in my personal life and with my hundreds of clients that I’ve worked with, that is not true.

So that’s reason number one. And then reason number two, which is kind of, I guess two and three would be either the way that they’re supporting their child to sleep doesn’t feel sustainable, but they don’t realize that maybe we could be doing it in a different way, or the amount of time it’s taking for their child to fall asleep does not feel sustainable. And so in their minds, if they could just lay baby or.

Brittni (10:39.534)

toddler down, kiss them and walk out, then they’re not spending an hour plus getting them to sleep. So I’ll break that down. As I said, we don’t need to, a baby does not need to fall asleep independently in order to sleep through the night. If how you’re supporting your child to sleep no longer feels sustainable for you, that doesn’t mean that you have to stop supporting them to sleep. It just means that we need to find a way of supporting them to sleep that feels sustainable.

And if you’re in that place, I will link in the show notes my free Switching Sleep Associations guide that you can have a look through to help you switch to a sleep association or a way of supporting your child to sleep that does feel sustainable. And then the amount of time, if it’s taking you an hour for your child to fall asleep, the problem is not you supporting them to sleep, there’s something else going on.

And I would need to work with you one-on-one to figure out exactly what that is. But I mean, big, like the main reasons would be either your child is not tired enough. On the rare occasion, and this is very, very rare, maybe they’re overtired, maybe they’re overstimulated, maybe they’re uncomfortable. Those are the big things that I’m gonna look into when I have a family come to me and they tell me that it’s taking their child an hour to fall asleep.

Maybe they’re not getting enough activity during the day. That’s one that I left out. And so I think what we need to understand is there’s nothing wrong with supporting your child to sleep. I think we can look at those moments as beautiful, beautiful moments that sometimes in the moment, yeah, after a long day, I’ve been there a lot, we just want our child to go to sleep. But in the big scheme of things,

Those moments are truly fleeting. And I don’t wanna like toxic positivity our way through this, right? Like if something doesn’t feel sustainable, let’s get you to a place where it feels sustainable. But I can tell you now at four and a half, I am, and we’ll get into how this happened, but I am not supporting Lila to sleep. And then I think back and I’m like, it was only four and a half short years of me supporting her to sleep.

Brittni (13:00.202)

And I will say now some nights I still do lay with her till she falls asleep because I want to, I want those snuggles. But the point being, if you’re feeling in a rush for your child to fall asleep independently, I really invite you to ask yourself, is it because I feel like this is something they need to do? Is it because it feels like how I’m supporting them to sleep no longer feels sustainable? Or is it because it’s taking too long? And if it’s one of those,

The answer is not necessarily not supporting them to sleep, it’s getting to a place where we feel confident supporting them to sleep. We know that it’s biologically normal, that we’re not creating a bad habit, or it’s changing the sleep association, or it’s getting to the root of why it’s taking them so long to fall asleep. And on this topic of supporting children to fall asleep, I just stated it’s a biological norm, but I wanted to talk about

why it’s a biological norm. So we have to understand that sleep represents, or not represents, sleep is a very vulnerable place for a human to be, anyone to be, any living creature, right? Because we’re not conscious. And the infant brain knows this. It knows that sleep is not safe. It knows that defenses go down when we’re asleep.

which is why, especially in that first year of life, children want to sleep on us or next to us. Their brain is primed to keep us close so that if danger comes when they’re sleeping, we’re right there. And I’ve talked about this in previous episodes, but.

Brittni (14:39.422)

The human brain is designed to keep our baby alive. So them wanting to stay safe and close to us is their brain protecting them. We live in the 21st century. We know that they’re not going to get eaten by a saber-toothed tiger if we leave them in the crib. Their brain doesn’t know that, right? So we have to understand that sleep is very vulnerable. And we also need to understand that in order to fall asleep,

We cannot be stressed, we cannot be scared. We have to have a very regulated nervous system. And so for a child falling asleep, which already represents danger, they’re going into unconsciousness, we also have to understand that it represents separation from us. Even if we’re co-sleeping, even if we’re contact napping, that still represents…

separation from us because they’re not conscious, they’re not consciously attached to us. So when we’re, when we, it comes to sleep, we need their brain to know that they’re safe, we need their brain to know that we are there to support them, and we need them to know that they’ll be safe while they’re sleeping. And the best way to do that is to support them to sleep. The more we support them to sleep, the more the brain learns sleep is not inherently dangerous.

I am safe, my parent or loving caregiver is here to support me, and that pattern is repeated over and over again, and then we end up with a brain that doesn’t feel like sleep is such a scary and isolating place, which will ultimately lead to a child falling asleep independently. So there is no rush to get there. Really, we can think about this as like building blocks, right, where every time we support that child to sleep,

We’re laying down a brick. We’re laying down that security for them to fall asleep independently in their own timing. So, how did I get there with Lila? I’ll first say that I’ve worked with lots of families on having their toddler fall asleep independently. It’s not something that I regularly do with children under 12 months. If a family came to me and there was like a really…

Brittni (16:58.07)

big reason why this needed to happen, I would work gradually with them. But it’s not something I usually feel comfortable supporting a family in doing until after the 12 month mark. And really I would say until after the 18 month mark. Again, if I had a family who really had their reasons for it, of course I wanna support them through it, but I would also let them know realistically it will probably take a while. But my point is, is I’ve worked with lots of families, I’ve helped them get there.

And each path is going to be unique. Child’s temperament is going to have a big play in it. Child’s sensory needs, that’s gonna be, we need to take that into consideration. So not every story is going to look like this, but I wanted to share ours. So just to kind of take a little back step, up until Lila’s fourth birthday, we were, I’ll just kind of roughly go through our bedtime routine.

We go into the bedroom, lights are already dim. I have a Himalayan salt lamp, so it doesn’t emit blue light. Lights are already dim when we go in. She go, our bathroom is in our bedroom, or like attached to it. She goes potty, we floss teeth, we brush teeth. Then we go into the bedroom. She chooses her two bedtime books. Then we do…

PJs, I put magnesium lotion on her, and then we get in bed. We read our Bible. We do, I have this really cute, mindfulness moments, I think it’s called. It’s a bedtime book that has like little easy meditation-esque things that you can do with children in bed. It just is kind of a way to kind of calm their nervous system, regulate them, which I love. Then we read our two books. And then after our two books, I will

her a story and then I was laying with her until she fell asleep. Now up until her fourth birthday I would nurse her while we were reading one book and then I would stop the nursing and then she wasn’t nursing to sleep. We stopped nursing to sleep I want to say when she was three, three and a half. I’m actually going to take that back. I’m going to say

Brittni (19:17.366)

maybe two and a half is when I stopped nursing to sleep. Either way, I had not been nursing her to sleep for over a year. She was just nursing a little bit and then falling asleep. After her fourth birthday, the nursing went away and we have had that same bedtime routine that I just explained since then.

Now, she is a low sleep needs toddler. We also live in Colorado where winters are cold and I am a firm believer in there is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes. But I also don’t love the cold so like we just don’t get it outside as much in the winter and we have the clothes. I just some days it feels like a struggle.

And I think that I feel less guilty about it because she does go to a forest school, which is all outdoors twice a week. So I feel a little bit less of a need to like force our outside time every single day. I do try to make it a priority. But my point being that if she wakes up too late in the morning, that’s gonna make bedtime later. If she doesn’t get as much outside time and activity during the day, that’s gonna make her have a harder time falling asleep. And so as we were entering these winter months,

I started noticing that there were nights where we would start bedtime at 730 and she wasn’t asleep until 845 and I was starting to really feel that rage. But I didn’t want to revert to old patterns of me getting really frustrated and some nights I would yell and say like, just go to sleep, Laila. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want the negativity. So I started tuning into myself. What could I do? Okay. I started waking up earlier than Laila so that I had some time in the morning.

because that was what the rage was, right? I just wanted her to go to sleep so I could have some time to myself. So I started waking up earlier in the morning so I could have that time to myself. And then my child decided that she was gonna start waking up earlier in the morning. But then that actually shifted bedtime earlier. So we were just kind of in this little pattern where I was trying to modify my behavior and my patterns so that I wasn’t getting really frustrated at bedtime.

Brittni (21:31.038)

I was also focusing on trying to get us outside, trying to get that movement as much as possible. So that’s kind of how we were in the winter fall months. I know we’re still in winter. Then right around Christmas, I got an awful head and chest cold, and I had this awful cough, I lost my voice, and as I was kind of getting over it, the cough actually got worse.

And so one night we were doing bedtime, she had almost fallen asleep and I had, you know, that tickle. I’m sure anybody who bed shares or anybody who contact naps or supports their child to sleep, you know that tickle in your throat, either if you’re gonna sneak, well, it would be in your nose if you’re gonna sneeze, but if you’re gonna sneeze or cough, you know that tickle. And you’re like trying so hard to hold it in because you don’t wanna wake up your sleeping child. And I could feel it coming.

And I could tell she was just about to fall asleep and I couldn’t fight it. And so I coughed and then she like startled awake and she’s like, why did you do that? And I was like, I tried it. I was trying not to, but I had to cough. And then it happened again. She was almost ready to fall asleep and that darn cough came again. So I was like, Lila, like, I don’t know if you know those coughs, but like nothing’s gonna, it was one of those ones where nothing was gonna stop it. Like I needed to go like.

to pack a lung up. So I was like, Lila, you’re not gonna be able to fall asleep with my cough. I’m gonna go get myself some tea and I’ll come right back. And at first she was like, well I’m scared. And I told her, Lila, I would never leave you anywhere. You’re not safe. You have your stuffies. I’ll put some kisses in your stuffies. I’ll put some kisses in you. And you also have Lou, who’s our dog and sleeps at the foot of our bed. I said, you have Lou in here to protect you. You are safe. I will be right back.

And so I went to make the tea, fully expecting her to be awake when I got back, and she was asleep. And so the next night, again, it wasn’t my intention, but the cough started while we were reading books, which I was like, okay, fine, I can cough while I’m reading the books. But once it was lights out, I’m like, this cough isn’t gonna go away. So I told Lila again, I’m gonna go make some tea. I will be right back. Again, I came back, she was asleep.

Brittni (23:53.898)

And that cough, it truly is because of the cough. This was not my doing. That cough stayed for like a week and a half. And it only, it got worse at night. And so every time at bedtime, I would feel it coming and I’m like, she’s never gonna fall asleep with my cough. So I would, it just became the norm. We would do our bedtime routine, shut off the lights, I’d cuddle with her for a little bit. And then I would say the cough would get really bad. And I’d say, I’m gonna go make some tea. Go make the tea. And she would be asleep.

and this was happening for like a week and a half. Well, finally the cough went away. And I was like, I’m just gonna tell her I’m gonna go make some tea. And that is how she started and is still falling asleep independently. I go make tea. We do our bedtime routine. I snuggle with her after the lights are off. And then…

Usually I’ll tune into how I’m feeling. If I’m at a place where I’m like, okay, I can’t sit here anymore, I have my never ending to do list going on in my head, that’s when I’ll say I’m gonna go drink some tea. Other nights I really will just stay with her because like I said, I want those cuddles. And some nights she’s like, okay, other nights she has a harder time, she’ll ask why can’t I come with you and I’ll tell her I’m coming right back and.

She’ll tell me she’s afraid and I will again tell her, I would never leave you anywhere, you’re not safe. You have Lou, you have your stuffies. I’ll be right downstairs and I will come right back up. And I will tell you when I’m back. And I do that every night. I’ll tell her, Laila, I’m back, even though she’s dead asleep. So the other night she asked me, will you like actually wake me up when you’re back? And so I tried, right? I was like, Laila, I’m back. I was trying to kind of like gently shake her.

touch her face and she was out. So in the morning I told her, I really tried to wake you up, but you were asleep, girlfriend. And so that is how I now have a child who falls asleep independently. I didn’t rush it. It actually wasn’t even the plan. It just kind of happened naturally and I decided to go with it. And some nights I still do lay with her and we still bed share if I haven’t shared that before, but I’m pretty sure it’s a common, oh.

Brittni (26:12.206)

common knowledge that we still bed share. But I think my message would be, if you’re getting to a place where you have a toddler and you’re just, you feel ready or you feel that they’re ready, baby steps. Make bedtime safe. Make them know that you would never leave them anywhere that they aren’t safe. Let them know that you will check on them, you will be back. Build up baby steps. I’m gonna go step out for a sip of water, I’ll be right back. And then make sure you come back.

They might be awake or they might be asleep. Then the next night, maybe you’re gone for two minutes and then three minutes and then four minutes and then up and up and up until they gradually fall asleep by themselves. But the key there is that we’re not doing it from a place of you won’t fall asleep, so I’m leaving. We want it to feel safe. We want them to know that we will be there to check on them, that we wouldn’t leave them in an unsafe situation. If you are struggling with this,

or you just kind of wanna get my opinion on what’s going on, how you could go about this. I would love to work with you. And then again, if you’re just having a hard time with how you support your child to sleep, I recommend checking out my free Switching Sleep Associates, Switching Sleep Associations guide. Or if you have a child who’s taking over an hour to fall asleep or even over 35 minutes to fall asleep every single night.

Let’s work together, let’s figure that out because that should not be the norm. It should take a child anywhere between 15 to 25 minutes roughly to fall asleep. And that doesn’t include like putting on PJs, brushing teeth, I’m talking about actively or like actively supporting them to sleep, meaning that like lights are off, you’re there either laying or snuggling with them, maybe you’re nursing them, rocking them, whatever the case may be. If it’s taking them longer than 25 minutes regularly,

We wanna look at that and figure out what’s going on. Have a wonderful day, and I’m sending sleepy vibes your way.

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