Most parents expect broken sleep when they have a baby. It is normal that your baby needs to feed but as the months roll on and the situation doesn’t get any better (often it has gotten worse) they are left feeling lost with an overwhelming amount of mixed advice about what they should be doing, is it normal, will it ever end and what can I do.
There is no magic behind sleep. Some children are naturally better sleepers than others but there is a science behind it and with a little understanding about how our bodies work you can understand your child’s sleep needs and help to establish good habits. We do not naturally sleep all night. We all wake several times a night and for young children that can be as many as 10 times! If your child needs help to fall asleep, feeding/rocking/patting etc then they are more likely to need help when they come in and out of sleep as this is where most sleep problems stem from.
Below I have outlined some of my top tips to help encourage your child to sleep well at night:
- Feeding – hungry babies don’t sleep. Make sure that they are having good spaced out feeds in the day so you know they can do the same at night. You should be looking to feed your baby every 3-4 hours. This makes no difference if they are breast or bottle fed. When they do feed at night make sure it is a feed that counts and not having a snack that will last and hour or two before they need the same again.
- Our bodies release a hormone called melatonin that makes us sleepy and a bedtime routine helps your body to know what is coming next so the release of melatonin coincides with bedtime. Therefore one of the best habits to get into with your baby is to introduce a bedtime routine that works towards your child going down into their sleep environment awake so they know where they are and don’t wake with a shock finding that they are no longer in your arms. Routines can be started at just a few weeks old and follow something like bath/wash, massage, getting ready for bed, feed, book/song and bed. Keeping lights dimmed and voices low.
- Props – these can be dummies, feeding, rocking etc. If your child is reliant on one of these to go to sleep then the chances are that every time they wake you will need to give back the prop. Aim for your child to go down into their cot awake (albeit sleepy) so they know where they are. They may make a bit of fuss. If they cry pick up to reassure but once calm put them down. Have confidence that you know they are tired and need to sleep.
- Skipping naps. Many parents believe that cutting back on their child’s day time sleep will help them at night. Exhausted children do not sleep any better. It is important that they don’t sleep the day away but you may find that they become over tired and harder to settle if you restrict day time sleep too much. Naps are important and gives them an opportunity to practise settling themselves.
- The three C’s. You need to be calm, confident and consistent. When making changes very rarely will things happen overnight. It takes time and sometimes it may feel like it has gotten a little worse before it gets better. You need to send your child the same signals that it is sleep time, if you do one thing at bedtime and another at night you are sending mixed signals about what they should do.
Ultimately if you have happy parents you will have a happy baby. Trust your instincts. Everyone had a different idea of what their perfect sleep scenario is so don’t feel pressured to do something you aren’t happy about. If the situation is not manageable there is always help to find a solution that will work for you.
This is a guest post, brought to you by Katie Palmer, Infant Sleep Consultant.