Image Credit: Tara Raye
This is a guest post from Sleepytot Baby Comforters
As every new parent knows, sleep deprivation is something that crashes into our worlds at the same time as a new baby. The wonder and joy of our newborn child can quickly be replaced by fatigue and desperation as months of little or no sleep begin to take their toll. But there are ways to help your baby to sleep through the night! Here are some key things you can do:
In the early days, babies fall asleep on the breast or bottle with barely a murmur. A gentle stroll in the pram or a drive in the car can quickly send a tired infant into lullaby land. So we quickly come to rely on these ‘props’ to put our little ones to sleep. And in doing so, so do they! This is the first mistake we make and the trouble is that your baby won’t learn to fall asleep by himself. The older he gets, the more ingrained these habits become.
So how can we avoid this pitfall? It’s not as hard as we might think. Teach your baby to put herself to sleep. This is a valuable skill that she will learn and carry with her through the important early years when sleep is essential in her development.
Every book out there on baby sleep will suggest one technique or another. Having read them all, I know they all provide some valuable guidance and insights. You will need to find a solution that you’re comfortable with. But here’s what I suggest.
In the very early days this will be hard but keep an eye on the times your baby is feeding and sleeping at and as time goes on, you can gently guide your baby into a routine that works for you both. The Baby Whisperer’s suggestion of EASY (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You time) is great for ensuring you’re not feeding your baby to sleep.
Watch your baby and when she looks tired and starts rubbing her eyes, or pulling at her ears, seeming cranky and irritable; pop her down for a sleep. She may look to you to help her with this (normally by screaming in protest!). Pick her up, cuddle her, give her reassurance, and when she is calm, put her back down for a sleep. You may have to do this a few times but she will soon learn to drift off by herself.
There’s absolutely no need to allow a very small infant to cry herself to sleep. If you or your baby are becoming distressed, do whatever it takes to help her sleep and try again next time. Remember that your baby is learning a new skill, and that it will take time. She needs your support and encouragement in these very early days.
When she wakes from a day time nap, give her a feed, change her and play with her. This is a perfect way of ensuring you don’t fall into the very common pitfall of feeding your baby to sleep.
By watching your baby, you will soon learn to recognise when he is tired. At first he’ll probably fall asleep every hour and this will slowly stretch out to every hour and a half and then he will be able to stay awake for two hours. You can gently guide him into a routine that works for both of you. I advise against imposing or following rigid sleep and wake schedules to the clock. In the early days, it is much better if you and your baby guide each other as your little one learns how to fall asleep by himself.
Schedules often make us feel like failures, especially since infants have their own inbuilt clocks and simply can’t stick to the times we set for them. Following the flexible routine of Eat, Activity, Sleep, will give you some structure without imposing impossible timescales on everyone.
Do avoid allowing your baby to become overtired or he will sleep less well and wake more frequently. Regular naps are the key to ensuring a good night’s sleep and vice versa.
From a very early age you can let your baby know it’s time for sleep with sleep cues.
Here’s what I suggest:
A baby comforter can be great to introduce at an early age. Hold it between you and it will become an object of security for your baby. You can cuddle it together before you put your baby in her cot and leave it somewhere nearby for her to smell. But please remember that all soft toys, comforters and quilts can be a possible suffocation hazard for an infant.
When she’s older, you’ll be able to leave the comforter with her when she sleeps so she can cuddle it and feel safe. Comforters can play a hugely important role in establishing bedtime routines when your little one is older so introduce it early and it will become an essential sleep cue.
I suggest the Sleepytot Baby Comforter because it is designed to adapt with your baby. If you use dummies, it can be an invaluable aid in helping your older baby find the dummy herself and not wake you. You can also pop a teether on it for those painful nights when new teeth are pushing through. And it can be attached to the pushchair, pram or car seat so it doesn’t get lost when out and about.
A sleeping bag is a great way of letting your little one know it’s sleep time, and also of keeping him warm and comfortable while he’s sleeping. The Merino Kids range is of beautiful quality and, made from super soft merino wool, these sleeping bags are breathable and help to maintain a healthy temperature for your baby.
The Grobag range is also excellent and can easily be found on the high street.
The environment is also important. Darken the room, put some soft music on and hold your baby close with his comforter for a while. This will give him time to adjust from play to sleep. At night time, you can let him know it’s time for a longer sleep by giving him a bath first. A little soft book to read together is a great way to introduce key words which come to mean it’s sleepy time for your baby.
It may be hard work at first and you might spend a lot of time going through the sleep routine! But before you know it, you’ll have a baby who naps well and sleeps all night because he knows how to put himself to sleep. An extra ten minutes preparing him for the transition from play to sleep time will be worth it if the result is a well rested family!
Some babies just can’t get to sleep without a little extra comfort. If your baby really needs to suck, you could use a baby soother, dummy or pacifier. The advice from The Lullaby Trust is that using a baby dummy or soother may help to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Remember that if the dummy (pacifier) falls out, your little one may call for you to replace it until they can find it themselves or are old enough to find it on their Sleepytot Baby Comforter!
White noise can also be useful in calming an unsettled baby. In light of the recent findings that a fan in baby’s room can reduce the risk of SIDS, you may find a fan that also gives out a gentle hum. Babies find these sounds very relaxing. Alternatively, there are loads of excellent white noise machines and CDs available aimed at helping babies sleep.
Related: Ewan The Dream Sheep - The cute and cuddly sheep who emits low-frequency sounds proven to calm and relax babies to help them sleep.
Infants get hungry during the night. How you handle night-time feedings can make a difference to how much sleep everyone gets.
Whether you’re breast-feeding or bottle feeding, keep the light dimmed, try not to play with your baby (the experts recommend not making eye contact but I could never actually manage this!). The important thing is to put your baby straight back to bed with as little disruption as possible. Your little one will soon learn that it’s still night time and not just the end of another glorious nap!
As you and your baby get to know each other, you may be able to stretch out the number of night time feedings by using a dummy. If your baby takes the dummy and goes back to sleep, you’ll know she doesn’t need a feed just yet.
If, however, she spits the dummy out and continues to cry, go ahead and feed her. Try to make sure she’s still awake, but calm and drowsy, when you put her back down. This way she’ll be less likely to depend on you to feed her to sleep.
All babies take time to begin sleeping through the night and it won't happen straight away. As long as you’re consistent in your approach, everyone will soon find they’re sleeping better.
In her book, Sleeping Through The Night, How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep, Dr Jodi Mindell makes the point that when our children learn to sleep, it is similar to when they learn to walk. When our little ones make those first tentative steps, we give them encouragement and support, but we don’t hold their hand forever.
Eventually, they must do it all by themselves. In just the same way, we should provide support and encouragement to help our babies learn to put themselves to sleep, without parental intervention.
About eParenting: eParenting was started by Jacqui O'Brien in 2004. At the time her kids were 1 and 4 and kept her nice and busy. Now they are teenagers and still keeping her pretty busy!