You have a beautiful new baby but instead of feeling elated you are feeling exhausted, irritable with your partner and maybe even a little resentful towards your new baby. Or perhaps you have an older baby or toddler and you’ve been struggling with their sleep for a very long time.
Words Maryanne Sayers
Sleep deprivation is a serious issue for parents of babies, with recent research showing one in four new Mums are getting just three hours or less of sleep a night. What’s more, one in five admit they have experienced severe depression or post-natal depression when their babies weren’t sleeping well, according to a study by Galaxy Research.
There is an plethora of information on baby sleep and routine, and so much of it is conflicting. It’s no wonder parents are overwhelmed, confused and exhausted. Our babies are exhausted too – “caught” in the same sleep deprived cycle as their parents.
The common perception has been for a long time that baby sleep is complex. However, when we strip it all back, sleep is an inherently primal and essential human function for our babies. Our babies NEED sleep, they WANT sleep and they CAN sleep. There is no baby on this earth who hates sleep.
Here’s the thing – it is not just about the going to sleep process. That is where so much attention is focused but that is only one piece in the bigger pie. Baby sleep requires a holistic approach and all the “foundations” need to be in place before a baby will sleep well.
Here are 5 fundamental guidelines for you to implement with your baby. The key is to stay consistent at all times. If you aren’t consistent, we can’t expect consistency from your baby.
Our babies NEED sleep, they WANT sleep and they CAN sleep.
1. Establish your baby’s daytime and nighttime to be aligned with their 24-hour body clock.
This means having a consistent bed-time at night and get-up time in the morning Your baby’s circadian rhythms (and ours too as adults) is regulated by night and day. Their daytime consists of naps when they are tired, interspersed with periods of awake time. For night time, their body clock wants to be having one long continuous stretch of sleep for 12 to 13 hours (with or without feeds dependent on age). The ideal bedtime for babies is 6pm (6.30pm for toddlers), meaning their get-up time to start the day the next morning falls somewhere between 6am and 7am. Establishing these timings consistently will help your baby’s natural body clock fall into place. Be mindful also that your baby’s day naps don’t finish too late in the afternoon, otherwise this will impact the 6pm bedtime.
2. When at home, always put your baby to sleep in one location – i.e. the cot or bassinet.
Avoid putting your baby down for sleep in multiple locations throughout the house such as on a lounge, on a bed, in a pram, in a baby swing. Your baby should always sleep in their bassinet or cot for all sleeps day and night. By doing this, your baby will form a strong sleep association with their own sleep space (just as we have a consistent sleep location – i.e. our bed)
Baby sleep requires a holistic approach and all the “foundations” need to be in place before a baby will sleep well.
3. Respond to tired signs.
Learn to recognise your baby’s tired signs during the day. Common tired signs include becoming irritable / grizzly, rubbing their eyes, yawning, arm and leg movements becoming jerky and rigid. Babies tire very quickly. If they are kept up for too long, they become overtired and over-stimulated very quickly and this makes it very difficult for them to fall asleep. If this is happening every day (and so often it is) then a baby will constantly be in an overtired cycle and will never sleep well.
4.Create the optimum sleep environment.
Your baby’s cot / bassinet area should be free of musical toys, hanging mobiles, play mirrors etc as these all equate to noise, colour and movement. These are strong stimuli and distractions and not conducive at all to good sleep. Don’t be lured by the promise on the packaging that they will help soothe your baby to sleep. They won’t!
Ensure a safe sleep space for your baby – so no bedding, blankets, soft toys in the cot or bassinet. Just the mattress with the fitted sheet and that is all.Make sure your baby is cool and lightly dressed in summertime and in warm/hot climates in general. Likewise, in wintertime and cooler weather (including the lead-in to winter), your baby needs to be dressed warmly and also the room temp needs to be adequately warm too. A baby who is not warm enough won’t sleep well.
5.Help your baby to acquire the self-settling skill.
Each time you put your baby down to sleep, allow them some time and space to self-settle. Go into them as needed to provide hands on comfort (such as patting) or pick them up for a quick cuddle, but also try and stay out of the room for periods if you can, to allow them time to put themselves to sleep.