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Call in the Cavalry! The Grandma Sleep Intervention

We don’t promote any single type of sleep intervention, because we really don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all strategy that will work for all families. We also don’t write out step-by-step strategies in blog posts, because there are so many factors that will determine how to modify a strategy to ensure success for a given family. All that said, the “Grandma Sleep Intervention” is one that will work for many families and suits a variety of parenting styles. If you are stuck in a rut and have a good relationship with your mother or mother-in-law, then consider this type of intervention to help your child learn to sleep in a new way. This strategy can also work with help from a loving aunt or uncle or even a really diligent dad!

Why Grandma?
  • Most grandmas are thrilled to have one-on-one time with their little grandbabies and won’t be put out at all in losing a little sleep in order to gain some cuddle time.

  • Most grandmas are experienced moms and aren’t going to get too stressed if your child gets fussy in the middle of the night. A typical grandmother will calmly check for a problem (wet diaper, hunger etc) and then go into super-soothing mode.

  • Most grandmas are patient. It takes a lot of patience to rock a baby for an hour in the middle of the night or to keep a toddler in bed.

  • Most grandmas are not sleep-deprived! It’s true. You may have good intentions. You may try to be patient and consistent, but if you are exhausted you may not be strong enough to follow through at 3:00 AM. Being rested helps with consistency in any intervention — grandma has the edge there.

  • Most grandmas are trustworthy. There are night nannies and nurses that do this type of thing, but with grandma, you KNOW your baby is in good hands. Plus, if grandma lives far away, it’s often more cost effective to buy a plane ticket than to hire a night nurse

These characteristics aren’t true for every grandma, of course, but they do hold for many families. After reading those grandma characteristics you probably already know whether or not this type of intervention might work for your family. If you think there’s a chance that this might work for you – read on!

Step 1. Lay the foundation for healthy sleep

Set grandma up for success by ensuring your child has an age-appropriate schedule and feeding pattern (see our blogs on these topics). Also ensure that your child has a cool, dark and quiet sleep environment. Figure out when your baby needs to eat at night and work on gradually reducing night feedings if necessary (see our blog on that here). Plan to work on bedtime first.

Step 2. Make sure Grandma is a good fit

Although we’ve painted a rosy picture above, there are some situations where this won’t work. For example, it’s unfair to ask a grandparent with physical or medical limitations (like back problems, a sleep disorder, heart condition etc.) to take on this type of responsibility, even though she might be willing. Also, some grandparents have, ahem, strong opinions about what to do and won’t necessarily be a partner in the process. For this to work, you have to have a conversation about the process in advance and make sure you are all on the same page.

Step 3. Make sure Grandma knows about current safety standards

Your mom was probably taught to put you down on your belly for sleep, but we now know that putting a baby down on her tummy increases the risk of SIDS. Similarly, your mom probably put you to bed with blankets and maybe even a pillow, which are suffocation hazards. You’ll want to review the AAP safe sleep guidelines with grandma before she starts in order to make sure she understands what to do.

Step 4. Let Grandma babysit during the day

If grandma lives far away, then give your child some time to warm up to grandma during the day before diving into the nighttime intervention. This is particularly important for children around 8/9 or 18+ months who may be experiencing separation anxiety. It would be a bad idea to send an unfamiliar person into the room in the middle of the night if your child is anxious around strangers.

Step 5. Start at bedtime

At night, do your bedtime routine as usual, but let grandma be nearby as you do the routine. After you finish the routine, hand your baby/toddler off to grandma and say good night. If your child normally falls asleep nursing, then move nursing earlier in the routine in order to allow your baby to be awake during the hand-off.

Step 6. Let Grandma take charge

For Babies: Here’s the beauty of a grandma intervention – grandma can do just about anything rock, comfort, bounce, shush, hold your baby while she falls asleep and it will likely lead to consolidated sleep, particularly if your baby had a nursing to sleep association.

  • Make sure that grandma knows when feedings should happen and make sure she has a bottle available or knows when to wake you.

  • For the first three nights, grandma can take an ‘anything goes, as long as it’s safe’ approach to get your baby to fall back to sleep. It’s important to note that your baby may cry, but you can be comforted knowing that a caring, loving relative is with her.

  • During these first three days, it’s fine to transfer from arms to crib asleep.

  • During the next three days, grandma should start to give your baby the chance to fall asleep independently, particularly at bedtime. This may be through a little grandma dance that involves shushing in the crib, then picking up and soothing, then shushing in the crib, then picking up and soothing etc.

  • On day seven, you should come back into the picture and do your child’s bedtime routine, putting her down awake. If possible, keep grandma around for a few more days while you transition back into the picture.

For Toddlers: Grandma can create a new fun bedtime routine and then set some firm ground rules. Since your child won’t know what to expect from grandma, so she’ll be more likely to accept firm rules. Grandma can put your child in bed, say ‘good night’ and there’s a pretty good chance that will be all it takes. If your child is still resistant, then grandma can either sit quietly in the room (and possibly sleep in the room during) for the first three nights, while your child falls asleep. For the second three nights, grandma can step out of the room and come back briefly to “check” a few times. On day seven and after, you should come back into the picture, but keep grandma around as a back up for the next three days if possible.

A grandma intervention isn’t for everyone, but for exhausted parents and excited grandparents this can be just the remedy to get everyone back to sleep. If you don’t have a grandma available and have to do it yourself, but aren’t sure where to start, consider booking a sleep consultation with us. We’ll walk you through a step-by-step plan to suit your family situation.

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