All babies are different and if there’s one subject that will prove how different they really are, it’s the subject of sleeping. It may feel like you are never destined to get a full night’s sleep again but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Routine, routine, routine
In the first few weeks your baby’s sleep pattern will be most likely controlled by their feeding routine, but there will come a time when you’re ready to train them too. Introduce a routine as early as you can by taking your lead from your baby. Most young babies will have two naps in the day of varying length. If you’re finding they fall asleep at 10am every day, then work around this. Routines can be extended to feeding and playing too, but don’t be too rigid in the early days. Some may not sleep much in the day or survive on short cat naps. What you will find is that babies will fall into a new routine every three months or so when they’re older – or every month when they’re younger.
Introducing a ‘bedtime’ routine is essential from the outset. Begin with a massage (skin-to-skin contact is relaxing and reassuring for young babies), a dancing boogie session or reading a story followed by a warm bath, a feed and then bed. Whatever you elements you choose for your routine, it’s up to you but once it’s established you’ll find your baby begins to anticipate what will happen at each stage. We introduced a bedtime routine from about nine weeks when Rae moved into her cot in her own room. We recognised she was becoming over-tired at between 8pm-9.30pm and decided to avoid the screaming that tended to follow this period of time by introducing a 7pm bedtime. It worked a ‘dream’!
Once your baby is in bed, keep the lights dim, your voice low, don’t talk too much and aim for a temperature of around 21C.You really must try and let your baby settle and fall asleep on their own otherwise they will always expect you to be there. Try a cot mobile too that can play a melody to ‘lull’ them to sleep. If they wake in the middle of the night for a feed, again keep your voice low, avoid eye contact, keep the lights dim and put them straight back to bed as soon as they are fed and changed. Don’t play with them!
In the middle of the night
Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician from UCLA, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block , suggests a method following the five ‘S’s to calm your baby in the middle of the night.
- Swaddling: Tight swaddling to remind the baby of its fetal position and reassure her.
- Side/stomach position: Placing the baby on her side or stomach.
- Shushing Sounds: A bit like ‘white noise’, these sounds are also supposed to imitate the continual whooshing sound made by the blood flowing through arteries near the womb.
- Swinging: To imitate the movement newborns experienced in the womb.
- Sucking: Breast, finger, dummy, or thumb!!!
This is a controversial, yet popular technique, but you need to be emotionally strong to be able to see it through. Devised by the American paediatrician Richard Ferber in 1985, and described in his book, ‘Solve your child’s sleep problem’, it basically means leaving your baby to soothe itself to sleep when it is emotionally and physically ready. Ferber believes this can be done from between 4-6 months by following a loving and warm bedtime routine, usually involving a bath, and then letting him/her fall asleep in their cot. If your baby then starts to cry, wait for five minutes before returning to soothe them, but do not pick up or feed them. When they are settled, leave again and when the crying inevitably starts, return after a slightly longer period of time, gradually increasing this as each night passes. For example up to 20 minutes. The problem with this technique is that it really ought to come with a safety warning suggesting parents need to follow this but also use their own instincts and recognise their baby’s cry. Is it an ‘I’m tired’ cry or an ‘I’m really ill or distressed’ cry?
When they’re ill
Disregard all of the above and comfort your baby as much as it needs. The hardest thing to do is actually realise your baby is unwell and be able to make the decision that it’s not a case for controlled crying. A baby can be suffering from the basics: being too hot, cold, hungry or need a nappy change; to teething, stomach pain, colic, wind. the list can feel endless. The main point to recognise is that once again it’s your baby and if it doesn’t usually cry, why would it begin to cry for no reason? If your baby does fall ill, be prepared for their sleep pattern to be disrupted for up to around four weeks.
Changing sleep patterns
Babies will change their sleeping patterns every month or two when they’re little and every three months or so when they’re up to 18months +. Don’t force them to remain in the same routine if they outgrow it. For example younger babies usually have two naps a day, while older babies may just have one long nap.
At some point your baby will sleep through the night. That is a fact. Believe in it.