As most parents will tell you, the term ‘sleeps like a baby’ can be a very misleading saying! Over two thirds of parents will face some degree of sleep issue in the first 2 years of their babies life. Although its almost impossible to avoid sleep deprivation completely there are definite steps as a parent that you can take to ensure your baby is a good sleeper
Sleeping unaided is a skill that babies need to learn. Unfortunately there are too many chances for us as parents to fall into bad habits- especially when your up uncountable times in the night or have tried everything to get your baby back to sleep.
Unfortunately its this ‘try everything’ approach that many fall into that is often the route cause of the sleep issue in the first place. Recent research from the American Sleep Association showed just that- there is no corrective sleep therapy that works better than any other. They all work equally well as long as one thing is present- consistency.
Whether your baby is relying on a breast, a bottle, a rock or a cuddle or more inventive measures to go to sleep. It will be that that they look for each time they wake in the night or need to sleep in the day. This can be exhausting for you, and for them. Babies sleep cycles are much shorter than adults leading them to wake many times a night- this is perfectly normal and actually protects them from SIDS and maintains their oxygen levels. However if they are relying on you to go to sleep and return to sleep this can be exhausting for you and for them. In order to rectify this and teach your baby to sleep independently you must teach them another way of going to sleep, without the need for you to be there helping them
With this in mind here are my top tips to ensure good sleep:
- Recognise when your baby is tired. The term ‘overtired’ is misleading and usually happens when your baby is taking too many short naps- preventing them from getting good continuous sleep. Babies only have 2 sleep stages- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) babies spend much more time in ‘active’ or REM sleep tan adults do. It is important for babies to achieve both states of sleep throughout the day and also overnight. If a baby only takes a short nap and then is woken that can prevent them from being able to fall asleep again, despite being tired leading to the term ‘overtired’. Remember the window and the mirror trick- if your baby smiles at themselves in the mirror then they probably have a little more playing in them before bed!
- Separate feeding and sleep times it is impossible for a tired baby to feed well or a hungry baby to sleep well. If your baby is feeding often see if you can encourage slightly bigger gaps (a 3-4 month old should easily be able to go 3 hours in the day and more overnight) so that you can practice them going to sleep without a feed inbetween (Eat Activity Sleep)
- Try and ‘practice’ your baby going to sleep from awake without feeding at least twice a day. If they always feed to sleep then they will always need that prop to go to sleep.
- Be realistic and have manageable goals. If your baby is feeding to sleep don’t expect to jump from that to them going to sleep In their cot. Choose a more manageable step such as rocking or holding them to sleep. Once your baby is going to sleep without feeding work out a new way they can sleep which involves you doing less for them. For example if they are being walked around- stand still with them, or sit down.
- Remember any change in babies will involve an element of crying. Babies like consistency and things to be the same each day- hence why routines work well. As long as you are there comforting them and you are sticking to the rules they will soon take to that change and then you can move forward again.
- The word ‘routine’ is hated by a lot of mums, including me! However I firmly believe in creating a loose routine for a baby, that is based on their sleep and hunger cues. This creates stability for them. It ensures that they know what to expect and that leads to security and makes them feel safe and inevitably happy.
- If your baby complains a bit when you lay them down try to resist picking them up. By all means stay with them and put your hand on their belly or chest, but try and let them fall asleep in their bed. I’m not suggesting you leave your baby to cry, but babies that are tired will be grumpy, as we are when we’re tired! Give them a chance to fall as asleep with you there, in their bed on their own.
- Trying everything never works. Choose one way of addressing the sleep issue and stick to it. It is important that this is decided before bed time as it is very difficult to formulate a plan in the middle of a sleep crisis. Ensure consistency and it will work.
- If you’re breast feeding, have a look at your diet – don’t drink caffeine for at least two hours before feeding. If you want to drink caffeinated drinks then have this immediately after feeding your baby. In older children intolerances to foods such as wheat can cause sleep problems, as can certain colourings and sugar. If you suspect any of this then speak to a nutritional specialist for advice.
- If your baby is over six months and is still feeding in the night they can be ‘weaned’ off their night feed, as long as they’re gaining weight at a normal rate. If you’re breast feeding, reduce the time on the breast at each feed by one minute per night until they’re not feeding at all. You can also offer water from a bottle. In bottle feeding babies, reduce the amount of milk by 1oz per second night.
- Early waking is a common issue in babies. If your baby is waking early and is happy and ready to start the day look at their bed time- if they are going to ed before 7.45 then try and push this forward- this will take a week to have an effect on their wake time. Otherwise look at their ability to self soothe- if this is not present then their ability to sleep will be effected at all times but especially at this time of the night when they will naturally sleep less soundly- this is especially the case if they are waking grumpy and obviously needing more sleep.
- Finally relax! If you are not relaxed about your baby sleeping then they will not go to sleep. Talking over your baby in a crisis, discussing the next move, deciding what to try next will prevent your baby sleeping.
Many parents are worried about ‘sleep training’ their baby, however it’s a valuable life skill to be able to sleep unaided. If your baby is not able to sleep by themselves it is better to tackle this as soon as possible. The younger the baby the easier and the faster the process is – simply because they have had less time to develop bad habits. Sleep training in an older child can be much harder, even traumatic for all involved.