The first year of your baby's life brings all kinds of erratic sleep patterns - for your child AND you! Here are tips for common problems
Posted: 4 December 2008
by Debra Stottor
If the mere thought of getting your baby to sleep through the night (or at least some of it) brings you out in a cold sweat, fear not. Some disturbed nights are part and parcel of being a new parent. Read this advice to help you and your baby achieve a better night’s rest.
My 10-week-old baby has 3-4 shortish naps (maximum 45 minutes) during the day, but is impossible to settle at night. What can I do?
It may sound slightly crazy, but he probably needs more sleep during the day, or at least longer sleeps that will give him proper rest rather than the mere catnaps he’s getting at the moment.
If you’re at home, lay him down in his cot, Moses basket or carrycot (it doesn’t have to be in his room, but can be if that works for you) and let him sleep for a couple of hours, twice a day. He’s difficult to settle because he’s over-tired and probably a bit grumpy and fretful – let’s face it, can you get to sleep when you’re cross? If you’re out and about this can be more difficult, but if he’s asleep in his pram, just keep pushing him around or duck into the nearest café and enjoy a restful cuppa and a read of the paper while he dozes.
My six-week-old daughter will only fall asleep if I rock her in my arms. How can I get her to settle herself to sleep?
It could take a while, but it’s definitely worth persevering, as learning to settle herself is one of the most useful things your daughter can learn at the moment – it means she’ll be less likely to scream the house down in the middle of the night and will be more contented generally.
If evenings are a nightmare because your baby’s colicky, it’s probably best to start during the day. Lay her flat so she can sleep comfortably and tuck her in as normal. The room doesn’t have to be dark, but subdued lighting is generally more restful. Don’t be tempted to stroke her cheek, as she will see your face and become excited and far less likely to sleep.
If she’s in a pram or rocking crib, rock her gently so the motion soothes her, and talk gently to reassure her while not making eye contact if she fusses. You may find it useful to swaddle her or give her a dummy if she uses one. Don’t pick her up the instant she cries but try rocking and talking first (equally, don’t let her get hysterical). Try leaving the room but waiting outside to reassure that you haven’t deserted her.
With consistent handling and encouragement she will learn to get herself off to sleep, so you can spend more time with you partner in the evenings.
My baby sleeps from 8pm, but wakes at 3am for a feed. Would it help if I were to wake him at 10pm for a feed just before I go to sleep?
It may seem logical to wake your baby for a feed before you go to bed yourself in the hope that this will enable both of you to sleep for five or more hours, but in reality you may just find he still wakes at 3am and that you disturb his natural sleep patterns in the long term.
By waking him in the middle of a normally sustained period of sleep you may find that he’s to tired to take a full feed, just dropping off at the breast or bottle. In this case he will almost certainly wake you again in the small hours. You may also find that, having woken him, he doesn’t want to go back to sleep, so you don’t get to bed as early as you’d like.
Left to his own devices, the length of time he sleeps at night will naturally lengthen, and while that may mean waking at 5am rather than three for a while, you have to think positive and look at it as progress.
My friend’s daughter was sleeping through the night by about six weeks, while mine at eight weeks is still very erratic and waking at least twice. What’s her secret?
Your babies are obviously two very different personalities, and even if you ask your friend exactly what she does to achieve these perfect nights, there’s no guarantee that it will work for you. Do listen to any advice she has to offer, as it may be just what you need. (But do remember that changing things round frequently, without giving a new system a chance to work, could make matters worse.)
There following factors could be affecting your daughter’s sleep pattern (or lack of it).
My six-month-old was sleeping through the night, but has now started waking again. Help!
- Hunger Make sure that she has fed well, and is fully winded, just before you put her to bed, as she is most likely to wake if she is hungry.
It may simply be that it will take your daughter a little longer before she can go more than 3-4 hours without milk than has been the case with your friend’s baby. If you usually only feed from one breast, try feeding from both to make sure she’s had her fill.
If you feel your milk supply is low at this time of day, take steps to avoid this, eg, eat a good meal earlier than usual and make sure you keep up your fluid intake. You could try a top-ip bottle of expressed milk to see if it makes any difference.
- Bedtime Do you put her to bed at the same time every evening, following much the same routine each night, eg, bath, story/cuddle, feed, lights out? If not, it may help to introduce some routine, so that she is aware that daytime fun is over, now is the time to settle down for the night.
- Does she know the difference between night and day? If your night feeds follow exactly the same pattern as daytime ones, she may just want to play, when you really don’t! Try to keep night feeds as low-key as possible: keep the lights dim, only talk quietly and don’t change her unless she’s wet or soiled as this will wake her.
This can be tough after you’ve just got used to having a good night’s sleep yourself.
If you haven’t started weaning yet, it may be a sign that she needs more than just milk, so think about introducing solids soon. It may be down to a growth spurt, so you need to try and ensure that she consumes more during the day to try and prevent this, whether it’s extra feeds or introducing solids.
It might not be down to hunger though. She could be teething, so check her gums to see if there are any red areas where the teeth are about to pop through, and consider using teething gel/grains or other pain relief to see if that helps.
If she’s been ill recently, she may have just got out of the habit of sleeping through, so you need to encourage her to settle herself, rather than choosing the obvious (and generally successful) solution of offering a feed. If she’s bottle-fed, you could offer cooled boiled water (or possibly watered down formula) so that she has the comfort of sucking, but doesn’t get back into the habit of having an extra meal in the wee small hours.
As long as you are consistent in your approach, she will probably settle back into a routine within a week or two, so you can get the rest you need.
Discuss this story
Share your photos with other ThinkBaby mum...