Helping your baby get to sleep may be one of the biggest challenges you face as a new parent. We all need a good night’s rest to feel ready for work the next day, and this is especially true when your job is nurturing a brand new baby.
These 9 tips will help your baby get some much-needed shut-eye and you to get some well-deserved rest too.
Your newborn may snooze a lot, but only for short stints
That’s because his internal clock isn’t up and running yet, so he doesn’t know the difference between night and day, and this is completely normal. Besides, his tiny tummy can’t hold much right now, so he’ll be hungry every few hours, explains Dr Jodi Mindell, author of Sleep Deprived No More. At around six to 10 weeks, he’ll start to sleep for longer stretches.
Good sleep habits are all about routine
By six to eight weeks, your baby can fall into a sleep schedule linked to his feedings, with bedtime between 7pm and 8pm, even though he most likely isn’t sleeping through the night yet. Newborns can benefit from having an evening ritual to stick to. “When you feed him, put on his pyjamas, and put on music, you send a bedtime signal,” says Dr Mindell. By three to four months, your littlie one may be snoozing about six hours straight, so you will hopefully be able to drop one middle-of-the-night feeding session, says paediatrician Dr Jennifer Trachtenberg.
Sleepy but awake is a good way to tuck bub in
If you let your baby nod off on his own, he is more likely to learn to put himself back to sleep if he wakes. Mum Erika Riley discovered this with her son. “I would stay with my son until he fell asleep. Thirty minutes later, he’d wake up and need me to drift off again!” Also, feeding bub right before bedtime may make him come to rely on that trigger to doze off. Try feeding as the first part of winding-down.
Pick up when necessary
Experts agree that for the first three months you can cater to your baby’s every bedtime need. After that, if you resist the urge to pick him up at each whimper, there’s a chance he will fall back asleep on his own without much coaxing. Sometimes all you really need to do is gently place a hand on his belly or softly sing in his ear.
Flexibility is the key
When you have more than one child, there will of course need to be compromises. “I’d have to wake up the baby so I could take my older son to activities,” says mum Jamie Gallovich. If this is you, cut yourself some slack, mama. “With your first kid, it’s possible to follow a schedule consistently,” says Dr Mindell. “When you have a second child, if you hit 50 per cent consistency, that’s good.”
A too-tired baby just won’t sleep as well
Try to learn the signs of sleepiness. Once bub is rubbing his eyes or yawning, he’s overtired, says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Nap Solution. “I call it the volcano effect. If he doesn’t get the nap, he erupts,” she explains. Also watch out for the ‘micro-nap’ – that five-minute snooze your baby takes in your arms or while in the car seat. “The first five minutes of a nap will reduce feelings of sleepiness, but they don’t rejuvenate a baby,” says Elizabeth. After this brief snooze he may be tired but will struggle to fall asleep. And if he doesn’t nap during the day, he won’t sleep well at night.
There’s really no right way to take a nap
Your baby might end up taking two longer naps by the time he reaches three to four months, or he may prefer three or four 45-minute naps until he’s nine or 10 months. Try following his lead says Dr Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. And don’t fall into the trap of expecting your baby to follow a bigger sibling’s previous sleep patterns.
It’s good to surrender to your baby’s schedule
Kate Clow’s second baby, Nora, was a great sleeper, but she woke up each day at 5am. Kate tried putting Nora to bed later and changing nap times, but her daughter still woke up at the crack of dawn. To survive these early starts, Kate started going to bed earlier herself. “What made it work was adjusting my routine,” she recalls. Of course that meant no more late nights doing laundry or watching her favourite television show, but there were eventually fewer bleary-eyed mornings to contend with.
Even stellar sleepers run into some snags
Your baby may be lucky to sleep like a dream, but don’t be alarmed if that’s no longer the case when he reaches new milestones such as pulling up to standing. Whatever you do, don’t change the bedtime rules. Instead, let your little guy practise these skills during the day so that he’s less likely to stay awake at night, honing them in his cot.