Sleep is a much discussed subject when a new baby is brought home. Both parents are exhausted after the birth and both are denied a good nights sleep for weeks after the baby is born. So below are some basic principles which, if implemented from birth, should help a baby to develop a good sleep pattern. These principles should in turn help the parents get some sleep too!
To start with babies sleep as much as they need, randomly around the clock, usually waking every 3-4 hours for food. Between 4-8 weeks babies often stretch their longest sleep from 4-8 hours and by about 2 months most show a preference for night sleep but it is up to the parents to encourage this.
Remember, you are the carer. And although it may not feel like it, the carer is in charge!
Have a bedtime routine (brief wind-down routine with an end point).
Have regular 24 hour sleep and wake times (daily routines help establish and maintain the body clock at the correct time).
Naps are important as over tiredness can prevent sleep. Spend time with the baby during the daytime (so that he is not seeking social interaction/input during the night).
Emphasise the difference between day and night (in environment, light levels, your behaviour, what you expect of their behaviour) to help him learn the difference between day and night.
Have an appropriate sleep environment (in terms of temperature, light, comfort etc.) to encourage sleep. Always change the baby from daytime clothes to night time clothes.
Going to Sleep
The most important skill to teach a baby is how to fall asleep alone. This will help him return to sleep after waking in the night.Wakes during the night are normal. It is the inability to return to sleep after these wakes which causes problems.
To help a baby settle himself to sleep, put him down in his bed when awake and do not interact with him once he has been put down.
Avoid responding too quickly to crying whilst he is falling asleep. It is normal for babies to cry when they are trying to fall asleep. They need to be given an opportunity to learn to fall asleep alone. Leave a newborn crying for ten minutes and then check him to see if he has wind or is uncomfortable.
Having a focal feed can be helpful. This involves giving the baby a complete feed in the late evening (approx. between 10pm and midnight). This is known as the ‘Dream Feed’. You may need to wake the baby for this feed if they have not woken themselves up from hunger. This feed is important as it helps the baby to feel full enough to sleep for longer. It also puts the carer in control. If you know the baby is fed, clean and warm, you can guess that the reason the baby is waking is because he has wind. You can pick him up in the middle of the night and put him over your shoulder without interacting with him. Wind for about five minutes and hopefully you will hear or feel a small burp emerge. Then put him down again and leave the room. Try not to stimulate the baby with talking or cooing.
Effects of lack of sleep
Persistent severe sleep loss can have effects on: the immune system, memory, motor skills, attention, creativity, educational performance, mood and behaviour. Establishing a good sleep routine when the baby is very young can help avoid the above as the child matures. Such effects can be seen in the child but also in any carers or parents whose own sleep gets disturbed as a result of the baby or child’s sleep problems.
The problem is that as the parents get more and more exhausted they start to feel on edge and worried and tend to rush to the baby as soon as it wakes and the baby is then in control instead of the parents! As a result both parents and the baby end up not getting enough sleep.
If you are having problems with getting your baby to sleep please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below or send us an email. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.