I remember becoming a new parent and amongst the congratulations were the words ‘welcome to the world of sleepless nights’. I thought nothing of this and somehow imagined our baby would sleep just fine. Perhaps I was naive.
Of course the early weeks come with inevitable night feeds and there is no preparing yourself for how exhausting this is until you experience it. But what if the months go by and your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night? How long can you survive on low sleep levels and still function well enough to take care of your baby?
Here are five things you can do to help your baby sleep through the night as soon as he is developmentally able (between three and six months).
- Start a bedtime routine. You can do this at as early as 1-2 weeks but certainly by 6 weeks it is worth having a bedtime routine join place. This can be quite short and simple but the idea is to do the same steps in the same order every evening. It becomes rhythmic and helps cue your baby for a longer stretch of sleep. Be sure to complete the last stages of the routine in the room in which your baby will be sleeping and in low level lighting. The process should flow so it is not ideal to go from a bath and getting dressed for bed followed by going back into the living area as this is stimulating.
- Create a sleep friendly environment for your baby which is nice and dark, calm and quiet. No busy mobiles over head, no light projectors on the ceiling or anything else that is visually stimulating. Also try to keep the room temperature steady and comfortable. If your baby is in your room, avoid having a television or other electronic device on.
- When your baby wakes or while she is trying to settle to sleep at bedtime, try picking her up to calm her and then placing her back down awake and repeating this a few times to help her become aware of her sleep space. Also try to soothe her in her crib as well. We want her to feel safe in there and to feel that you are very close by.
- Avoid over tiredness as this is one of the biggest causes of sleepless nights. I know that sounds backwards but it is true. A well rested baby will sleep far better than an overtired baby. Remember this phrase ‘Calmer days equal calmer nights’ so avoid busy shopping centres or carnivals or parties because, even if he is asleep, he will be in a light sleep and aware of the outside stimulation.
- From 6-8 weeks, practice putting your baby down when he is ready for sleep but still awake. Some call this ‘drowsy but awake’ but when they are too drowsy, this has no affect. Just practice to begin with and help him along to sleep if need be but from 4+ months you can give him a little more chance to settle before rescuing him. It takes time to master the skill of self settling but this gentle practice will help to develop it.
Bonus Tip: There is a lot of pressure on new parents to not get into ‘bad habits’ but you cannot spoil a newborn and you need not worry about so called ‘bad habits’, just do what feels natural as your baby will need your help to get to sleep. If a sleep association such as being fed to sleep, becomes relied upon and is still happening after 18 weeks, it will be easy enough at this age, to undo and start helping your baby learn how to fall asleep without you doing it for him.
The key to all of this is consistency. Helping your baby feel safe, secure and in a rhythm will go a long way.
The Sleep Nanny System™ by Lucy Shrimpton is out now, available from Amazon priced £8.99. See http://www.sleepnanny.co.uk/