As the parent of a newborn, you'll be keenly aware of how important sleep is. Your baby is sleeping an almost obscene number of hours because they have an innate need for it, whilst somehow you seem to be left feeling utterly sleep deprived and exhausted. The problem is, it's not just the total number of hours sleep you get in a twenty four hour period that matters, it's how well consolidated that sleep is that makes all the difference.
Unfortunately I can't tell you that I'll be able to get your newborn sleeping through the night and you feeling like you did before you had children. But what I can do is help you start shaping your newborn baby's sleep so that you lay the foundations for healthy sleep habits and put them in the best position possible to start sleeping through the night just as soon as their little tummy allows.
Follow these six simple steps to newborn sleep happiness.
1. ESTABLISH A FLEXIBLE ROUTINE
The mere mention of routine can be enough to send some people running for the hills whilst others breathe a sigh of relief. Whichever camp you fall into, this doesn't mean you're going to become a prisoner to nap times, but it is going to make your life a bit more predictable. And, even more importantly it's going to help you better understand your baby's cries because you can more easily eliminate certain things knowing that at this moment in time your baby shouldn't be tired or hungry for example.
To help you establish a routine for you baby, keep a log of their feeding and sleeping times for a few days and try to work out a pattern of lengths of awake times between naps and between feeds. This is a good place to start. There are age determined nap schedules for older babies, but until your baby is 4-5 months old they won’t be capable of following one so stick with awake times instead.
Your baby's routine should go along the lines of feed, then play, then sleep. This is to try and avoid them constantly feeding to sleep and developing the most common sleep association that causes problems for parents further down the line.
2. HAVE MULTIPLE SOOTHING TECHNIQUES
Having a series of different techniques that you use to calm and soothe your baby is a key element in not creating a single sleep association. This is vital if you want to avoid having to feed your baby to sleep and back to sleep again in the night, or stand over their cot stroking their beautiful silky hair while they drift off to sleep. As lovely as this is now, believe me it's less exciting a year down the line when you're painfully sleep deprived and the cot is now on the lowest setting and you've got a bad back from all that leaning over.
You should always give your baby a chance to settle them self to sleep, but if they don't succeed then step in with your soothing techniques before they become hysterical as it'll be a lot harder to calm them down then. Give it ten minutes with any one technique before switching to another. If your baby is particularly agitated take your baby into a dark room and put on some loud white noise.
Swaddling, singing, shushing, swinging and sucking are all great soothing techniques, just keep it varied to avoid a single sleep association.
3. CONTROLLED USE OF A DUMMY
Babies love to suck. And dummies meet this need so perfectly. But then dummies also have the potential to create huge problems when they fall out at night and baby can't put it back in again, they need to wake you up to do it for them If possible try to use a dummy for daytime fussiness but avoid it becoming something they can't sleep without, or at least don't automatically re-plug it as soon as it falls out.
Dummies are recommended by The Lullaby Trust to reduce the risk of SIDS. They're not 100% certain why dummies reduce the risk of SIDS, perhaps due to the positioning of the tongue, or perhaps due to the fact that the baby keeps waking up every time it falls out thus preventing a really deep sleep.
4. ALLOW OPPORTUNITIES TO SELF SETTLE
From about six weeks it's a good idea to start putting your baby down drowsy but awake at least once a day. You can stay nearby to help them tip over the edge to sleep if they need it, just keep it varied and try not to pick them up if they don't need it. And ideally don't be touching them at the very moment they actually nod off, you want them to do this bit on their own. If you can make this the norm at bedtime by six to eight weeks you're winning. If despite your best efforts your baby falls asleep whilst feeding, don't wake them, just put them down in their cot and try again next time.
If your baby wakes early from a nap or in the night at a time you wouldn't have expected to feed them, give them a few moments to see if they'll settle themselves back off to sleep. We often respond too quickly and end up interfering with their ability to self settle.
5. ENCOURAGE A CONSISTENT SLEEPING PLACE
From eight weeks of age your baby will be getting much more alert and much less able to just block out their environment to fall into a deep and restorative sleep. So from eight weeks you should start getting your baby to take the majority of their naps at home in the crib. Being on the move or in a swing makes it easy for your baby to drop off but it keeps them in a very light state of sleep. However, don't be so intent on getting them to nap in their cot that you become a prisoner at home, there's a happy middle ground in there somewhere.
Getting your baby into an age appropriate routine and knowing how to safely start stretching their periods of sleep at night can be hard for parents. But if you can get the foundations for healthy sleep habits in place early it really will make this process a natural next step for you baby and something that they’ll do naturally as and when they’re bodies are capable of sleeping for longer periods. If you need some support in doing this, or have an older child who isn’t getting the sleep they need, then find out more at www.sleeprocks.co.uk