By Cindy Davenport
Consideration of an infant’s unique needs, cues and capabilities, and responding to a child with warmth and gentleness, can lay the foundations for healthy sleep patterns and a child’s overall wellbeing.
A calm and content child, who understands there is emotional support available to them from their caregivers should they need it, is more likely to experience better quality sleep than a child who is left to cry and ‘manage’ on their own.
Here’s what we know:
- Sleep disturbances are noted as the most commonly identified problem in the first years of life—in fact around 40% of all infants and toddlers can experience sleep challenges
- Sleep challenges can lead to unsafe sleep practices
- It is vital that educators understand the capacity of an infant and toddler and how to settle them effectively—so that unsafe practices do not occur
- Parents need assurance that their child is cared for by experienced and knowledgeable educators, who understand how to create an emotional and physical safe sleep space
- Parents are more likely to follow safe sleeping practices when provided with consistent and evidence-based information from health professionals and educators
Sleep is one of the most widely discussed topics amongst parents of young children, whether that be at home or in an ECEC setting.
Some of the most commonly asked questions for ECEC professionals include:
- Why can’t my baby sleep on their stomach?
- I know she is rolling, but can my baby be wrapped? She sleeps better that way.
- Can my baby be woken at 3pm, otherwise he won’t sleep tonight?
- My baby is 8 months old. She only needs one sleep now, so can you please ensure she has only one sleep?
- Can you please wake my child after 30 minutes?
- He’s got reflux so can you ensure that he sleeps on his tummy or with a pillow to raise his head?
- I’m worried about him getting a flat head if he’s always placed on his back to sleep, can he sleep on his side instead?
- The amber beads really help my baby, can you please leave them on at all times?
It can be challenging to respond to parent and carer requests or questions when they contradict what you know to be safe sleep and settling best practice.
Being able to listen and work collaboratively with families to achieve safe sleep and settling outcomes, whilst recognising an infant or toddler’s unique cues and capabilities, is fundamental to understanding and implementing a safe sleep and settling environment in the early year’s education and care setting.
And when it comes to sleep, understanding how our babies communicate is vital. An infant’s cry triggers a caregiver’s internal response, making us act on the infant’s needs.
Key things to remember:
- The sleep needs of infants and toddlers change across time and vary from child to child
- The environments we provide for babies and toddlers influence their sleep and rest
- Providing safe, predictable, and calm environments are important to support sleep
- Infants and toddlers need adults to identify and be responsive to their sleep cues
- It is vital to incorporate safe sleeping principles and settling techniques in early childhood education and care settings
This article was written by Cindy Davenport, a registered midwife and maternal and child health nurse.