When it comes to babies, sleep is one of the most talked about topics among parents and is one of the biggest causes of distress for many. Some parents will thrive regardless of how much sleep their baby (and consequently they!) are getting, while the majority will be pulling their hair out and searching for solutions in desperation, asking themselves over and over again: why isn't my baby sleeping?!
If only you could wave a magic wand and make all your sleep problems disappear. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. Sleep is a complicated topic and the way forward will differ depending on the age of your baby and their unique personality.
That said, if you’re a first-time parent who is struggling with sleep, the answers to these four questions will set you off along the right path.
Is my baby getting enough sleep?
Fact: In babies, sleep breeds sleep!
Does this sound familiar? Your newborn isn’t sleeping (enough) during the night, so you try to keep them awake for as long as possible during the day to tire them out. Or, what about this? Your baby isn’t sleeping (enough) during the night so you wake them up if they sleep for too long during the day.
It’s logical (right?) – my baby’s not sleeping so I’m going to tire him out. It’s actually counter-productive. Contrary to popular belief, sleep breeds sleep. So, if your baby isn’t sleeping it may be because they’re not getting enough sleep. Seep deprived babies will come across more revved up and consequently sleep less; not more!
We’ve all seen it in toddlers and often hear parents say: “My child doesn’t need to sleep – look at her, she’s pinging around like a ping-pong ball.” More often than not, they are hyper because they’re not getting enough sleep. In fact, 80%+ of parents make this mistake!
It’s hard to deal with this when your child is 18 months or 2 years. That’s why setting the foundation for good sleep programming so that your baby is getting enough sleep is so important from day one.
Is my baby overstimulated?
Fact: Babies don't know how to sleep - they need to be trained
It’s been proven that too much stimulation can cause sleep problems for babies, especially when it comes to sleeping during the night.
How does your baby know when it’s time to sleep? Have you introduced a consistent routine with positive sleep cues to start preparing them for sleep? And what does a sleep routine look like?
70% of parents assume that babies already know how to sleep, when in fact it's down to them (or a maternity nurse/night nanny) to help them settle into a routine. Here’s an example you might want to try but bear in mind you need to find a routine that works for you and your baby.
When you’re ready to start getting your baby ready for sleep, move them away from the hustle and bustle of the day into to a calm and quiet space. Cooking smells, deliveries, the TV, the washing machine, other children are all stimulants that will distract your baby and make it hard for them to fall asleep.
Give them a bath or a massage, take them into a room with calming music (or white noise), give them a calming feed, swaddle them, lay them down in their cot and let them settle.
Letting your baby settle themselves is such an important step. But it’s often hard for parents as your instinct is to pick your baby up at the slightest murmur or noise. This isn’t always necessary, or the right thing to do.
Is my baby crying because he is hungry?
Fact: Most crying early on is due to tiredness, not hunger
Pretty much every new parent makes this mistake. Hands up if your first response when your baby wakes up crying is that he’s hungry? You’re not alone; it’s very common for behavioural cues to be mistaken as signs of hunger.
It can be so hard to distinguish between a tired cry, a hungry cry, or a cry for some other reason and it takes time to learn and understand your baby’s cues through the different stages of growth.
Counter-intuitively, most crying early on is due to tiredness. Not hunger, or anything else.
The problem with feeding a baby every time they cry (apart from the fact that you’ll end up feeling like a feeding machine!) is that it leads to snack feeding. If you feed your baby every couple of hours, he will quickly become used to taking only enough to sustain him for an hour or two. And if that’s the case, those long sleep stretches are going to be a distant dream.
What’s more, if you feed your baby to sleep it can lead to cat napping, especially if you transfer him to his cot once he is asleep. He may sense you’re not there, or miss the sound of your heartbeat, and he will wake up shortly after you’ve put him down.
Finally, if you’re feeding an overtired baby, they won’t have enough energy to feed properly which in turn will make them hungry again too soon and shorten their sleep.
Is my baby relying on props to sleep rather than self-settling?
Fact: different props have different impacts on parents and babies
In the same way that positive sleep associations included in our example sleep routine can get babies into good sleep habits, sleep props can become addictive and have a detrimental effect on sleep patterns.
Sleep props include (and are not limited to) nursing your baby to sleep, walking up and down stairs, driving around, motion such as rocking, sleeping with your baby and dummies. If your baby becomes too reliant on a sleep prop, they’ll quickly become reliant on you offering the prop in order to sleep.
Clearly, a lot of babies use dummies, and until it’s time to wean them off dummies, this is quite a parent-friendly prop. However, having to nurse your baby to sleep or needing to drive them in a car are quite exhausting.
So, while props may help your baby sleep in the short-term, they can very quickly become addictive. If your goal is a long-lasting, fulfilling sleep, you may want to reconsider the role they play in your baby’s sleep routine.
Babies are not born knowing how to fall asleep. (Shock!) They need to learn, and you need to teach them this important skill. That’s especially important because babies’ sleep cycles are very short, and if they don’t know how to fall asleep on their own they could wake up every 20 minutes. “Teaching” will involve light-touch soothing such as gentle rocking, patting on their back, or singing.
The key to a successful sleep routine is to start addressing it the minute you get home from hospital. It’s too early for sleep training – that needs to wait until your baby is fully weaned at round six months. But the sooner you start building the foundations the better off you and your baby will be in the future.
If you’re looking for more help with getting your baby into a good sleep routine, we’ve got your covered at myTamarin. Our beloved maternity nurses and night nurses are available to come and work with you in your home; or if you prefer, they are accessible via video call and online via our new online newborn support. Find out more.
We will also be releasing a series of videos to guide you, check out our Expert advice for new mums and mums-to-be.
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