When you first got pregnant I bet the last thing you were thinking about is how much your baby will be sleeping, or not sleeping.
When pregnant, it’s all about the labour, the delivery and getting the nursery done on time! And I bet, although a lot of people told you that you need to make the most of your sleep while you still have it, you smiled politely and thought, “Oh, my baby will be an excellent sleeper. I am even thinking of doing my MBA while on maternity leave!”
The reality of sleep deprivation doesn’t really kick in until you are home, you have been awake for what seems like 135 days, and you are still in the same pajamas you were discharged in. Welcome to parenthood!
Sleep deprivation is torture; it actually is. There is nothing quite like it. And when you have a baby who isn’t sleeping, and you are not sure why, then it feels worse than torture.
Getting an infant to sleep can be difficult and if yours isn’t sleeping, but it seems like everyone else’s is, it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong or there is anything wrong with your baby.
Here are a few things to know about babies that can help:
- All babies are different.
- It’s okay for your baby to take longer to sleep through.
- It’s okay for your baby to wake more frequently than your best friend’s baby.
- It’s okay for your baby to require more help to learn how to self-settle.
But there are a few things that I think are the most important for when your baby won’t sleep.
TIP 1: ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
The most important thing I can recommend is to establish a routine with your baby. It’s never too early to establish a night-time routine which involves a story, a bath and a feed. You might want to incorporate your own rituals to share with your baby – maybe it’s a massage, maybe it’s your favourite childhood book (even if baby doesn’t understand it yet). It’s all part of the predictable rhythm to winding down.
TIP 2: SET A BEDTIME
Related to routine is timing. It’s important to have a set bedtime. I know these days, we all live a fairly unstructured life. We value spontaneity; but when it comes to babies, structure and predictability can really make a difference.
When a baby feels like they know what is coming next, they feel more in control and this feeling helps them to relax and eventually sleep. You don’t have to make bedtime really rigid (7.08pm is not that different from 6.49pm) but roughly between 6pm and 7pm you should start a wind down process and stick to it. I have heard some mothers settling their baby as late as 11pm and then finding that the baby does not sleep well and is unsettled during the day.
The best hours for baby to sleep are the early hours of the night as this is when they have their deepest and most refreshing sleep. Waiting until later robs them of the best part of their sleep. It is much better to stick with a regular 7ish sleep time.
TIP 3: LISTEN TO YOUR BABY
Listen to your baby when they are settling. I do not advocate controlled crying but I do think you need to listen to your baby carefully to see if they are crying or just making a few noises which are their winding down noises.
When you have a new baby, it feels awful to leave them and you don’t want them to be distressed but many (if not all babies) do make a few noises as they’re going to sleep on their own. Prior to 12 weeks, it’s unlikely they can settle on their own; they need your help but do try to leave the room first and give them a moment to try.
Once they get past 12 weeks, and self-settling starts to become a possibility, if you rush in, they will never get the chance to learn this skill. Listen to your baby and trust your intuition. If you feel like they are getting distressed, don’t leave them, but if you feel like they are winding down, give them a moment.
TIP 4: CHECK THE BABY’S ROOM
Babies’ rooms can be incredibly distracting. Mobiles over the bed, the flashing light of the modem on the desk, cracks through the blinds. All these things can be fascinating to a baby. Try making the area around the cot dark and distraction free to help your baby wind down and get a good night’s sleep.
TIP 5: TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
You are okay and your baby’s okay – unless you feel something is wrong. If you do, don’t wait outside the nursery door. It’s fine to check your baby if you’re worried. It’s fine to comfort your baby if they’re distressed. And if you’re really worried, call a doctor. I really believe that parents know what’s best for their baby.
It’s totally normal to be stressed if your baby won’t sleep but I hope these tips will help you find some ways through and start you on the path to being your own baby whisperer.
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Jo Ryan is an Aussie author and parenting expert and is now part of our team of pregnancy gurus. A Registered Nurse for over 20 years, Jo spent much of that time working in paediatrics. She has a Masters of Public Health, focusing on the health and wellbeing of women and their children. Jo’s the Founder and Director of BabyBliss.com.au, which provides support, advice and assistance to parents of newborns, toddlers and beyond. Jo is excited to share her knowledge and support with the new mums and mums-to-be in our Pregnancy and Post Baby Programs.