Tips for managing sleep with little ones, while juggling farm life
As a sleep consultant, I have worked with many different families from all walks of life. Most have pressures from various areas, be it family members, work life, or other children, but none have quite had stress and pressure like farming families!
Many of you will be having to juggle bringing up little ones, and then having to help on the farm as well. Not only that, I am sure you will have tired partners/husbands coming in from long days, in need of attention too, so all this leaves little time for rest for yourself. With all this, are you struggling with settling your baby or toddler to sleep? Do you find you are up frequently through the night and struggle with coping on lack of sleep day to day? Are you finding it tough having to get up to baby and prevent them from crying so that your husband and partner doesn’t get woken? Are naps a real struggle to get right with needing to be out on the farm? If this sounds like you, I have some tips below that might just help you find a little better balance with farming and sleep.
From my experience working with hundreds of babies and toddlers (and having my own) over the past 3 ½ years, I nearly always find that the factors affecting sleep are often not what parents think, and that achieving healthy sleep habits is often not as difficult as expected. The best thing about what I do comes down to setting little ones up for success, before we even look to do any sleep training. A holistic background for sleep always comes down to a good sleep environment, timing of naps and bedtime, and milk and solids. If your child is well, and gaining weight, we can then safely work on achieving sleep. Things like reflux, low weight, dairy allergy etc can influence settling and sleep, but if we can get on top of this with medical clearance, then we can still proceed with settling strategies.
An ideal sleep environment for a new-born, through to a toddler, is first and foremost best to be super dark. The reason for this is that without darkness, melatonin (the sleep hormone which is produced from around 8 weeks of age) cannot be easily released, and this then keeps a small child more wakeful. Darkness also helps with calming a baby or toddler, as they are less stimulated by their environment, and are less likely to want to be social and fight sleep.
The biggest struggle here though, is that parents worry that if they sleep baby in a dark room all the time, it means that sleep is harder when not in their room, so why encourage a baby to need to sleep in darkness? This is a fair point, but the answer comes down to consistency the majority of the time, which makes for a well-rested child that copes just fine when things aren’t as consistent, versus a child who isn’t able to get the rest they need the majority of the time, so doesn’t cope or sleep well on the whole. I have found a lot in my experience, that if a child has been able to hone great sleep skills in darkness over their early months, they do often sleep well out of home too later on.
You can also create darkness out and about for on the go naps- we love Snooze Shades for prams and car-seats! (You can get them here) Portable block out blinds, or a roll of tinfoil can also come in handy for trips away, or naps in the cow shed! Along with darkness, white noise can also be useful in the first year and beyond, especially for out and about, and for helping to drown out the sound of the farmbike heading up to the shed at 4am!
If you have a great sleep environment, you can then more easily get some good naps. Balanced naps through the day are the basis for great night sleep. Children need to nap until age 2 ½ with most go until 3 years.
A lot of parents who struggle with night sleep, think that the solution is in less sleep through the day, and many will drop their little one’s naps too soon, which can then worsen the night waking, as overtiredness triggers sleeplessness (think about how you find sleep really hard when you are often exhausted and need it most- you can’t switch off). The key is in the right balance of naps, relevant to your little one’s age. A new-born needs lots of sleep through the day, generally 3-4 naps, at least 1-2 hours in length. From around 3-4 months, babies need 3 consistent naps, with the longest nap starting to be in the middle of the day, with shorter naps either side. From 5 months, babies have often developed what we refer to as biological nap windows, which are 3 periods through the day which occur between 7am and 7pm, where there is a natural drop in wakeful hormones so that sleep comes more easily, and is more restorative to a child. These windows are between 9-10am, 12-2pm, and then later at bedtime between 6-7pm. From this age it is easiest to have a shorter sleep in the morning, so that baby is then tired enough to nap well for a balanced, restorative nap in the afternoon, so that all is needed is a short 30min sleep between 4-5 (dropped at 7 months), to then enable a more successful bedtime, and longer more settled night sleep. This 12 hour (maximum) day, with a short nap, long nap structure, lasts through until 15-18 months when a toddler then only needs one nap, which is already established where it needs to be!
Time and again have parents been pleased to have this routine, as it means that the first nap is easy to achieve out and about, and most farming families have more down time for a good long nap in the middle of the day, where it is most hot through summer and not easy to have bubs out and about. A nice early bedtime then also means you get some time to yourselves in the evening, which results in more rest for you both, and the chance to get to bed earlier.
The last piece of the sleep puzzle comes down to how your little one falls asleep. If they are able to self settle, then with some tweaks to environment and routine, then with appropriate feeding, night sleep often improves relatively easily with a consistent resettling approach. If you are struggling with getting consistent sleep at night, and your little one is relying on you to put them to sleep for naps and through the day, then they will be waking at night to have the same help to get back to sleep. If this is a quick feed or a cuddle a couple of times a night, and you can cope with this, then no problem! But if you are finding the waking is excessive or it takes a very long time to resettle with lots of crying even with support, and you aren’t coping, then may need to look to teaching your little one the skills of self settling.
This can be done in a number of ways, and the approach comes down to your child’s temperament and skills, and then also your own abilities. If you are super tired, and struggle to be in the room a with crying baby, and it is taking a very long time to settle, then being more out of the room and perhaps checking in every 5-10mins is likely going to be a better fit. If you are finding that your little one is more sensitive, and does settle easily with your help, and you yourself are pretty calm, then being in the room and removing your help gradually is likely a better fit for you.
It is very important to note that sleep training (babies over 4/5 months) does not equal cry it out, and is a very positive thing if your family is not functioning as well as it could due to lack of sleep. If you take into account all the factors affecting sleep, and find a consistent approach right for your family, the results can be hugely beneficial, and even a few days of a little more crying in order to reach better sleep far outweighs the more damaging effects of lack of sleep for a parent and child long term.
Sophie Lloyd is a Certified child and infant sleep consultant for Baby Sleep Consultant NZ, and has a background in nursing and postgraduate science.
She has worked with hundreds of families both in New Zealand and worldwide, and now trains and certifies independent consultants, through the Baby Sleep Consultant registered programme.
- If you would like to work with Sophie, you can contact her directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- She is also offering a special 15% discount on home consults (South Canterbury only), or phone consults (nationwide). Use the code FARM15 if booking via the website www.babysleepconsultant.co.nz or let Sophie know in your email.