Empathy and Baby Sleep – The Missing Ingredient For Helping Your Baby Get A Good Night’s Rest

How often do we talk about empathy and baby sleep in the same sentence?

As an Infant Sleep specialist, my clients usually talk to me about baby sleep in terms of emotions like:

  • Stress (from losing sleep and about baby’s wellness)
  • Frustration (that nothing is working)
  • Fear (that something is wrong)
  • Shame (that they are failing as parents)
  • Guilt (from losing patience)
  • Defeat and helplessness (giving up).

But the most helpful mindset you can cultivate to help your baby sleep better is one of empathy.

Empathy and Baby Sleep Go Hand In Hand

If your baby is struggling to develop healthy sleep habits, know that your emotional state when putting your baby to bed is critical. How you are feeling, and the expressions of those feelings when you strive to settle your little one, has a profound impact on her ability and willingness to relax and sleep.

If you tense up at nap time or bed time because the experience has been challenging, your baby will pick up on this tension. They will inherit the idea that sleep is a bad thing, to be avoided or resisted, and you will likely encounter more tension and stress.

Please don’t feel like you are “doing it wrong” if this is the case for you. Of course you are tense and stressed – you’re not getting enough sleep yourself, and no doubt you are worried that your baby isn’t getting enough sleep either. This anxiety stems from your deep love for your child.

You just need some tools to change your approach.

When you are able to acknowledge your baby’s challenges and express empathy, you convey that your baby’s emotions are ok, valid and perfect.

Why Empathy and Compassion Help Babies to Sleep

Don’t make the mistake of believing that a baby is too young to have emotional experiences. They may not have the ability to manage or express their emotions just yet, but as tiny humans, they detect energy and moods just as readily as we adults do.

Think about the impact of empathy and compassion on yourself. When you are experiencing a strong emotion, and someone denies that emotion or declares that you should not be feeling that way, how do you feel?

Not great. Most likely, you will feel that emotion even more strongly, but now it’s imbued with frustration and resentment too.

When your emotions are validated (“Of course you’re feeling this way? Who wouldn’t?”) you feel a release. You feel comforted. The emotion likely begins to subside.

When you convey to your baby that how she’s feeling at bed time is perfectly fine, she can accept her fear and move through it. She feels heard and understood. Now, satisfied that she has communicated and that you have given her permission to feel, she can begin to relax.

How to Convey Empathy to Your Baby at Sleep Time

You can show empathy to your baby with compassionate words, with soothing touch, and even by applying mindfulness and acceptance principles.

Empathic Language for Baby Sleep

  • “Yes, this is different. Soon you will be able to relax and sleep if I give you some space. I’ll come back to check on you soon.”
  • “I know, my love. I can see you feel a bit unsure about all of this – you don’t want me to leave. It’s sleepy time now. Rest gives us energy. I’ll see you soon.”
  • “Yes, you are learning how to relax. You are frustrated. This is different to what we did before. You’re safe. It’s sleepy-time now. I love you.”

Soothing Touch for Baby Sleep

Within your baby sleep routine (the sleep routine is the cornerstone of healthy sleep habits) there is ample space for compassionate physical contact.

While nursing, touching, holding and cuddling your baby at sleep time, make sure your movements are gentle and slow. At this time, we don’t want to stimulate your infant with too-vigorous rocking or bouncing.

Your tender touch can convey empathy by reassuring your baby that she is safe. The strength of your arms while breastfeeding, the warmth of your hands as you put her down, gentle squeezes on her hands and feet as she prepares for sleep can help her to know that she is protected.

While offering these soothing touches, convey empathy using words like the ones above in your own authentic way.

Mindfulness For Baby Sleep

Grounding yourself in the moment by following your breath can have more than just a calming effect on you. You can transfer this calm to your baby too.

The simple act of following your breath in and out while allowing your baby to do and be whatever she wants in that moment can bring about an energetic shift.

Present-moment acceptance means allowing whatever is to just be. Similar to the principle of acknowledging baby’s emotions, this acceptance can communicate the idea that all is well and fine, so that baby releases and can let go as well.

The Ultimate Goal of Baby Sleep

Your goal as a parent is to support your baby through developmental milestones so that she learns to sleep on her own. The idea is to empower, not rescue.

Bringing empathy and compassion into the equation is key to getting you there.

Need more advice on helping your baby to sleep? Follow me on  Instagram, You Tube, or Facebook where I do regular live Q&As with parents like you.

About Raquel Tara – Baby Sleep Support

I’m one of the most experienced voices in the infant sleep support space. I’ve worked with doctors, teachers, celebrities and coaches both-in Australia and abroad. 

I help parents get their babies sleeping with Australia’s most supportive 1:1 baby sleep programs. I’d love to help you too.  Work With Me