top of page

5 things classified as "baby sleep problems" that are perfectly normal!

The main source of my stress as a first-time parent was worrying if my son's sleep was normal or not as there was so much societal pressure from talking to other moms, reading baby books and websites, and from well-meaning friends and family. For example, he never slept as much as the baby sleep sites recommended and I also could never get him to go down drowsy but awake. Now that I have learned what is biologically normal through the Baby-Led Sleep Certification, I want to pass on that knowledge to reduce your stress if you are feeling worried about your baby's sleep! Read ahead for 5 things that are classified as "baby sleep problems" that are perfectly normal as well as some strategies to make each challenge more manageable (as I know even if they are "normal", it can still be exhausting when you are in the thick of it!)

1. When your baby doesn’t want to sleep in their crib or bassinet

Why it’s normal: Babies attach through their senses in the first year of life, meaning they seek to be close to you by seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling you. The crib or bassinet represents being away from you and if they cannot sense you are there, this means they are facing separation, which can lead to them either not wanting to be put in the crib/bassinet to sleep or calling out for you when they wake. Furthermore, it’s a completely different environment from the womb where there was movement, they could hear your heartbeat, the perfect temperature, etc.

Tips to make this challenge more manageable:

  • Stay close to the crib/bassinet during sleep times so they can still sense your presence. You could do this by room sharing at night (note: AAP recommends room sharing for at least the first 6 months) and/or staying in the same room for naps as well to see if that helps them sleep better.

  • You could sleep on their crib/bassinet sheets for a few nights or spill breastmilk on them if you are breastfeeding so they smell like you.

  • Create positive associations with the crib as much as possible by letting your baby play in it with lights on and off. To further help them become accustomed to being alone in the crib, you can play games with them in the crib like leave and return where you leave the room for a moment and return with a happy expression.

2. When your baby isn’t able to be put down “drowsy but awake”

Why it’s normal: Babies are driven to be close to their caregiver based on their attachment instincts as well as for their survival so they can be protected from danger. In this light, it makes sense that if they are in the process of being supported to sleep and then are placed alone in their crib awake, most babies would become alarmed and then fully awaken. If a baby has a more easygoing temperament, then it is possible they will be able to be put down drowsy but awake, but it typically doesn’t work for the majority of babies. Another aspect of this that is problematic is the idea that it is needed to be done for them to connect sleep cycles. If this were true, then it would mean that any baby who is fully supported to sleep would be calling out after each sleep cycle to be helped back to sleep, but I have seen in my experience with my own children and my clients, that this is not the case!

Tips to make this challenge more manageable:

  • If drowsy but awake doesn’t work for you, but you would love to be able to put your baby down in the crib/bassinet so you can get a break, here are some tips for the transfer: Support baby fully to sleep in whatever ways works for you, then wait about 15-20 minutes for them to enter into a deep sleep. (You can do the arm drop test where you lift your baby’s arm and drop it. If they don't stir, it means they are in a deep sleep.) Then transfer them to crib bum first, then slowly lower head and feet. If they wake upon transfer, you could either gently rub their back to get them back to sleep in the crib or pick them up and try again.

  • Another tip is to put a warm towel down, then remove it before placing them down so the crib is nice and warm.

3. When your baby requires parental support to go to sleep

Why it’s normal: Babies rely upon their caregiver to enter into a calm state through a process called co-regulation. To be able to be relaxed enough to enter into sleep, using relaxing associations like rocking, singing, nursing, etc. are all great ways to help with this. Furthermore, according to Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist, babies and children seek more connection when they are facing an imminent separation such as at bedtime, so helping put them to sleep is a way to feel more attached to their caregiver before this separation.

Tips to make this more manageable:

  • Make sure your baby has many sleep associations instead of just relying on one thing to go to sleep. For example, if you rock your baby to sleep, you could also sing to baby while using a white noise machine and rubbing their back at the same time. That way, if you want to make a change, your baby is used to more than one way of going to sleep.

  • Figure out your baby’s early and late tired cues (click here for a free download that discusses this in more detail). Once you notice your baby’s early tired cues, this is when you will want to start your nap or bedtime routine to ensure they don’t become overtired and get a second wind, making it more difficult to get them to sleep.

  • Involve your partner if you have one in the nap or bedtime routine so that it isn’t just one person who can get the baby to sleep. Before the age of 6 months, infants have an indiscriminate attachment, meaning they don’t show a specific preference yet for one caregiver making it that much easier for others to get involved in putting your baby to sleep. If you are breastfeeding, your partner can still be involved in other aspects of the routine such as bath, reading books, singing lullabies, etc. (For more tips on involving your partner in the bedtime routine, you can read my Instagram post on this topic here.)

4. When your baby still needs to breast/bottlefeed overnight past 6 months

Why it’s normal: Feeding at night is still normal past the 6-month mark for a variety of reasons. First off, babies usually go through a growth spurt around 6 months so it is very likely you will notice increased feedings at this time, including at night. Furthermore, as babies get older, they become more aware of their surroundings and so it may be harder to breast/bottle feed them during the day, meaning they may make up for these feeds overnight. If breastfeeding, feeding at night is important in terms of maintaining your milk supply. Also, certain substances exist in higher quantities in nighttime breastmilk such as the hormone prolactin, which helps increase and maintain milk supply, and the amino acid tryptophan which helps your baby make melatonin, which helps them distinguish between day and night. Lastly, in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, babies breastfeed around 4 times a night.

Tips to make this more manageable:

  • Keep baby close by for night feeding sessions by room sharing, so that it makes it that much easier.

  • Keep lights dim and try not to interact with your baby too much during feeding sessions so they go back to sleep more easily after the feed.

  • When offering baby solids, make sure to offer breastmilk or formula first to help them get an adequate amount of milk during the day as this could help reduce baby feeding overnight as often

  • You could do a dream-feed which is when you feed your baby when they are semi-awake instead of waiting for them to wake up to signal to be fed. For example, you could do a dream-feed before you go to sleep at night so you could potentially get a longer stretch of sleep before the next feed.

5. When your baby sleeps less than the recommended amount

Why it’s normal: Each baby is unique in terms of their sleep needs; some babies require more sleep whereas others require less, despite what certain baby sleep sites might say. A study examining trends in actual infant sleep compared to recommended hours of sleep over time found that recommendations were not based on any substantial evidence but more related to examining how much sleep babies were typically getting (Mattriciani et al, 2012). Another study showed that even at the newborn stage, there is a very wide range of daily sleep totals needed by babies for their development (some newborns only needed 9 hrs per day; others needed closer to 20) (Paavonen et al., 2019).

Tips to make this more manageable:

  • Instead of looking at recommended sleep charts, focus instead on tuning into baby’s mood and behaviours to determine if they are getting the sleep they need. If baby seems well-rested and content, then they are likely getting the sleep they need.

  • If you have a low sleep needs baby, even though it can be frustrating, (I know from experience!), it is important to accept your child for who they are and to do your best to not compare them to others! The best thing you can do is to continue to make sleep a positive and calming experience and take the lead in terms of guiding your baby to sleep but not trying to force your baby to sleep more than they need to.

There are many more aspects I could speak of in terms of things that are classified as “sleep problems” that are in fact just characteristics of normal infant sleep, but I will save them for a later post. The overall purpose of this blog post was to provide you reassurance that your baby is normal, you are doing an amazing job but also to provide you with some strategies as I know these different situations can be frustrating at times! You’ve got this!

I'm Aileen, a Baby-Led Sleep and Well-Being Specialist. I offer baby/toddler sleep support without any sleep training. Book your free 15-minute discovery call here to learn more about this approach and how I can help you!

88 views0 comments


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page