During the last couple of months of pregnancy, you might find you start to have trouble sleeping at night. Many people will tell you that it is nature's way of preparing you to cope with a newborn. But nothing can prepare you for how you will feel if your little one won't sleep.
We're not quite sure who coined the expression "sleep like a baby" because for many new mums, that translates into "screams for two hours then sleeps for 45 minutes". It seems unbelievable that you must help your baby learn how to go to sleep, but you really do – it is a learned skill just like learning to walk.
While some babies naturally seem to understand the difference between day and night and will drop off to sleep wherever they lay, the struggle to get their baby to sleep is real for many mums.
We thought we would dive into the subject to offer you some tips on how to help your baby establish good sleeping habits.
Why won't they sleep?
For the first two weeks after birth, it's common for your little one to sleep all the time, only stirring when they are hungry or have a dirty nappy. Then, around 10-14 days old, as the maternal melatonin wears off, they start to wake up more, and suddenly getting them back to sleep may become an issue.
Newborns tend to wake every few hours to feed, as their tiny tummies aren't big enough to keep them full for very long. These waking patterns often replicate the broken nights you had in the final weeks of pregnancy and feel manageable for a little while. As your baby grows, they'll start to need fewer feeds and, theoretically, can go longer between meals overnight. This is usually when parents expect their babies will start sleeping through the night.
Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen, and you can find yourself rocking or walking the baby for hours, trying to get them to resettle. This can leave new parents exhausted, frustrated, and searching for solutions.
When will they sleep through the night?
You probably want a straight answer to this question, but as with most things, it depends. Ultimately, babies need to learn to go to sleep; that is, they need to learn how to resettle themselves if they stir, without relying on a parent to feed, rock, pat, or comfort them back to sleep.
How you help them resettle will significantly impact their overall sleeping patterns. You can help them sleep well at night by encouraging good sleeping habits throughout the day. A routine of naps during the day helps them sleep better at night. It's almost as if, while newborns, the more they sleep, the better they sleep.
Some babies need to reach developmental milestones before sleeping for over six hours. The most common is to overcome the Moro or startle reflex. This natural reflex causes babies to jump when disturbed, flinging their limbs out like a starfish.
The Moro reflex can wake babies when they are dreaming. Using a swaddle for the first few weeks can help mitigate this reflex, making your baby feel safe and secure while lying in the cot.
What affects your baby's ability to sleep?
A growth spurt, sleep regression, and the inability to resettle themselves independently can all affect your baby's sleep patterns. Whether your little one is experiencing one of these or has reflux or another condition affecting their ability to sleep, there are things you can do the help them sleep through the night.
Here are Ludere's top tips to help your baby sleep all night.
Create and maintain a bedtime routine
Babies and children love routine, and it's never too early to get a bedtime routine started. Keep it simple, so you can do the same thing every night. Consider starting with some nappy-free time on your baby play mat, followed by a calming, soothing warm bath. Then, once you've dressed them, you can enjoy reading a short book together.
Even very young babies will enjoy listening to the sound of your voice as you read aloud. Lastly, give them a feed, and burp them. A bedtime routine is where you begin creating positive sleep associations for your baby.
Encourage your baby to self-soothe
Many new parents find themselves holding their baby all the time as the moment they go to lay the baby in the bassinet or cot, they wake up and start crying. Teaching your baby that they are safe and secure when lying down is crucial to improving their sleeping habits. If your baby finds it hard to settle, it's always okay to check on them.
However, it's worth trying to limit your time in their room, avoid eye contact and let them know it's sleep time. You can place your hand on their chest for a few moments to calm them, then, when they are calmer, leave the room. This can help ease separation anxiety, break the sleep association to be held to fall back asleep, and help your baby learn to self-soothe. We'll talk more about helping them self-soothe later in this article.
Practice placing them in their cot awake
Once your little one is around 12 weeks old, they can start to develop the ability to learn how to self-settle. Although it is often tempting to have your baby fall asleep on you, an important trick to help develop their sleep skills is practicing placing your baby in their cot for their nap while they are still awake.
That way they can gradually learn to fall asleep in their sleep environment on their own, without being dependent on contact naps or feeding to sleep associations.
If you can, try to follow a schedule: As we said before, babies and children love routines. Some people prefer not to introduce a schedule, and frankly, there are many books available about the 'best' routine to follow.
We suggest finding a rhythm that suits you and your household and trying to follow it as best you can. By following a predictable pattern during the day, you can avoid them going into the night over-tired, which in turn, leads to better sleep during the night.
Try to create a calm environment
Ambience is everything. A nice quiet, cosy, dark room will help your baby sleep and avoid them getting distracted by their surroundings.
You can consider adding white noise–these can provide a consistent, soothing sound to help them sleep and block out other household noises.
Patience is a virtue
Teaching your baby how to resettle themselves will take time, patience, and diligence, but it is so worth it!
Should I start thinking about sleep training?
Believe us; most parents have tried multiple different techniques to help their babies sleep. If you've been patient and tried these tips and tricks but are still struggling with your baby's sleep, training might be an option to consider. There are several different approaches:
- The Cry-It-Out (CIO) method
- No Cry Method
- The Controlled Crying method
Do a bit of research and choose a style that you are comfortable trying. Establishing new sleeping habits can take a whole week, so we advise choosing a sleep training method and following it closely for at least seven days.
Consistency is key. The first few nights will be the most difficult, be once your little one is going to sleep appropriately and calmly, it will make everything else easier.
What is sleep training?
Sleep training teaches your baby how to resettle and go to sleep without any help from you. Sleep training is different for every family and should be based on your needs and what you feel comfortable with.
When to start sleep training?
Again, this depends on many factors. There is no specific age they magically reach where everything gets easier; mostly, it comes down to how well you, the primary carer, are coping.
If you feel overwhelmed and exhausted and spend hours walking around the house or going for long drives as your little one 'will only sleep in the car,' you're probably ready to introduce sleep training. Like, right now, tonight. Because while your baby needs to be ready, more than anything, you need to be ready.
Sleep training requires your total commitment.
Choose a time when you are ready to be at home for a few days and are unlikely to be interrupted, and it's worth asking for some support around for you, too, if you feel you need it.
Before starting sleep training, ask yourself:
- Is my schedule free for the next few days?
- Have I chosen a suitable sleep training method for my family?
- Am I ready to implement the strategy?
- Can I fully commit to this process?
- Have I discussed sleep training with my partner?
- Are we prepared to tackle this together?
- Am I willing to make the changes necessary for sleep training success?
Is it ever too late to sleep train?
If your baby is over 6-months old, you might be pulling out your hair asking, "is it too late to sleep train my child?" Many parents wait to begin sleep training, hoping that their child will just grow out of being a terrible sleeper.
Luckily, sleep training is effective at any age, and can be done with babies at any age - even into toddlerhood!
How do I know if my baby needs sleep training?
If your little one is consistently cranky and overtired, is still waking up every couple of hours during the night and is finding it hard to sleep during the day, it's probably time to investigate teaching them to sleep.
A little hard work from you over a week or two will help create habits that will last a lifetime. It may be easier in the short term to continue to rock, pat, walk or drive your baby to sleep, but long term, teaching them to resettle themselves will pay dividends.
Healthy sleep is so essential for your baby's development. While you are sleeping, your brain processes all the information it has absorbed over the day and grows. And, if your baby isn't sleeping, there's a good chance you are either.
Insufficient sleep can become a health issue.
Research suggests that sleep deprivation in children is linked to obesity, behavioural problems, learning issues, and other health issues later in life.
Teaching and establishing healthy sleep habits in your baby from birth will make sleep training easier and, more importantly, help keep you and your baby well-rested and happy.
How can I ensure my sleep training is a success?
Be consistent, take notes and be a little flexible. It takes a while to form a new habit, and it's not unusual for babies to experience sleep regression as they grow. If you stick to your sleep training method, it will get better.
Give yourself a break.
Teaching your little one to sleep takes time, patience, and consistency. Every parent out there is willing to offer the best way to get babies to sleep, but we recommend listening to your heart and choosing a method that works for you and your growing family. The best news is that once you've done it once, the next baby will be a breeze!
Try not to listen to unhelpful comparisons. Solving your baby's sleep issues will take a bit of observation, a bit of trial and error, and a lot of flexibility. It will get better eventually, and just because you have a terrible sleeper at two months old, it doesn't mean they'll still be rotten sleepers at two years old.
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