If you have a baby, it can be the most magical part of your life. But if your baby has trouble sleeping, it can turn the parents into zombies through lack of sleep. People who say they sleep like a baby, probably don’t have one. It can be one night after the next of little sleep and is definitely the least fun part of maternity.
An estimated 25% of children and teenagers have some kind of sleep problem. Sleep is absolutely essential. There’s been a lot of research in the last ten years that very strongly correlates poor sleep in infancy and childhood with medical problems further down the road. These issues can include ADHF, obesity, learning disorders and emotional or behavioural problems.
The trick to getting any baby to sleep is to perfect a comfortable environment and to create a soothing bedtime routine. When setting up sleepy surroundings for your baby maintain a temperature that is just on the cool side of comfortable. Consider getting specialist baby bedding from Nursing Angel. Even if your newborn sleeps better covered in blankets, make sure they’re light ones so your baby doesn't overheat. You'll know if the climate is appropriate by feeling your baby’s neck. If it’s sweaty, remove a layer and if it’s sweaty to your touch, add one.
Some babies sleep best in a completely quiet room. But most prefer quiet background noises, which may remind them of the sounds in the womb. Try the constant hum of a fan which will also help regulate the temperature, or a sound machine that produces rhythmic noises.
Meanwhile it’s never too early to establish your baby’s bedtime routine. To do it, pick a series of two to four calming activities before bed. Some super-soothers include soft lullabies, a repetitive bedtime story, a small pre-bed breastfeeding, a cuddle, a bath or time spent in a rocking chair. Whichever activities you choose, do them consistently before sleep and you'll find your baby’s internal clock responding. Remember, though, that your bedtime activities are to make your little one sleepy, not to make them fall asleep. In fact, you should put your baby down at the point when he or she is definitely drowsy but hasn't dropped off yet.
The reason for this is that you will teach your baby to drift off on his own accord without relying on you to make him fall asleep. Maternity clothing can be the most amazing time of your life, if you can get this right.
Hanging a mobile over your baby’s bed or adding a night-light to the nursery room may help smooth the transition from your arms to sleep. When your child drifts off to dreamland, expect your little one to stay there for two to three hours if your baby is under three months. Newborns will then wake and need to be fed because their small stomachs are tiny and can’t last long.
By the time your baby reaches twelve weeks however, your baby may be able to sleep five or six hours without feeding. When breastfeeding, I prefer to use the Ameda or Medela breast pump, available from Nursing Angel. To encourage this, wait a few minutes before going to attend a crying child during the night. Your baby may go back to sleep without your help.
If you can’t resist the urge to comfort your crier, avoid breastfeeding your baby immediately as this encourages the midnight snack habit. To further encourage all-night sleeping don’t change your baby’s diaper in the middle of the night unless it’s really soiled. Instead, put a heavy-duty night-time diaper on your baby before putting him to bed.
Sleeping through the night is a learned behaviour. Barring a medical problem, there isn't a child in the world who can’t learn to sleep properly.
My top tips are:
- A good bedtime routine. Having a consistent pre-sleep ritual night after night.
- Early to bed. Most children need 11 hours of sleep a night, and infants and toddlers need even more.
- Children need to be able to put themselves to sleep at bedtime so they can put themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night.
- Don’t let the baby fall asleep while eating. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep.