Sleep issues can be very challenging at times to manage. Whether it is that you are struggling to settle or resettle your baby, or that they are cat-napping, waking early or habitually waking can create much stress and frustration for parents. Although there is not always a quick fix to sleep issues, there are easy ways to teach your baby the skills of settling and resettling so that they can become an independent sleeper. Though a newborn does not have the ability to self-soothe until at least 12-16 weeks, you can start to gently teach them these skills from birth by establishing good sleep habits and making going to sleep an ‘enjoyable thing’.
Here are some basic guidelines for you to follow to help you to achieve this:
Understand the Sleep Process. Sleep is a learned behaviour and is vital to your baby’s well being. Learning about sleep cycles, the 3 phases of sleep and establishing and encouraging good sleep habits from birth is a great way to start.
Recognise your Baby’s Tired Signs. Every baby is different, so your baby will have his own way of showing you that he is tired and ready for sleep. Once you see a sign, start the settling process so that you don’t end up with a baby who is over tired.
Respond to your Baby’s needs Promptly and Establish a Strong Bond of Trust. Observe your baby ‘s body language and listen to his different cries and react accordingly. This will build a trusting relationship between you and your baby and he will feel safe and secure knowing that his needs will be met. Trust is a very important part of building emotional intelligence and is the foundation on which loving relationships are built.Don’t leave your newborn baby to cry for longer than 1 minute. Crying is his only form of communication. Be consistent with any sleep patterns or techniques that you choose so you create a clear expectation for your baby without confusing him.
Create an Environment that is Conducive to Sleep without bright light or brightly coloured walls. Provide a comfortable and warm bed in a room that has a temperature between 18-22C.
Create Positive Sleep Associations: Play white noise and use sleep aids such as a swaddle for your newborn or a safe-T-sleep, sleeping bag or both when your baby is around 4 months of age. Comforters are also an excellent tool to introduce at this age. These all provide great cues to your baby that it is time to sleep.
Create a Structured Routine right from the start. A routine will give you a rough guideline of when your baby needs to feed and sleep. This can help build a healthy biological rhythm within your baby and will also help you, within reason, plan your day. Though newborns are very unpredictable, by the time your baby gets closer to 8 weeks you will have a much clearer pattern. Remember that it is only a guideline so you need to remain flexible, reacting to her cues and responding accordingly.
Provide Consistent, Predictable Patterns and Rituals as they are a Vital Key to Success. This is achieved by establishing a pre-sleep routine, daytime and night time patterns, including a bedtime ritual where you do the same thing each time in the same order. This gives your baby clear cues as to what is expected of them, how and when their needs will be met and what is going to happen next.
Avoid letting your Baby get Overtired or Over Stimulated. Focus on what is happening with your baby, observing their body language whilst working in conjunction with the clock. Baby’s that are overtired will struggle to settle and fall asleep. Try to manage your baby’s environment as best as you can so you can prevent your baby from becoming over stimulated. Newborn babies neurological systems are very immature so they do not have the ability to ‘switch off’ from too much stimulation until around 3 months of age. Instead their nervous system becomes overloaded, which results in them becoming stressed and difficult to settle.
Be aware of ‘Accidental Parenting’. This is when parents provide a quick fix solution that develops into a habit and your baby associates it with settling to sleep and becomes dependent upon it. These can be subtle things that you do that can then create sleep issues for you later on. Accidental parenting issues can all be solved but it becomes more of a challenge as your baby gets older.
Try to avoid using Sleep Props and creating prop dependency. Sleep props are something that your baby associates with falling to sleep. These are generally the eventual cause of sleep issues. Examples of sleep props are using a pacifier (although they can be very effective for newborns, it can very quickly become a sleep prop as your baby gets older), being rocked or held to sleep or being fed to sleep.
Don’t’ Rush in. As baby’s transition through sleep cycles they can be quite noisy, with a loud cry out or grizzle, which may make you think that he has woken. Instead of rushing in, just wait and see first to give him a chance to resettle himself back to sleep independently. Rushing in could also inadvertently disturb and wake him early from his sleep. It’s a balance of listening long enough to see if he will resettle on his own but not too long that he gets himself so upset that you miss those resettling or feeding cues if he is hungry.
Have Realistic Expectations for the age and stage of your Baby. Know what normal feeding, sleeping and activity behaviours are for your baby’s stage so that you have realistic expectations. Every baby is different so tune into your baby and he will guide you with his cues.
Be Flexible and adapt to Changes.The only constant with babies is change itself! Your baby will have regular growth spurts and their patterns will change constantly due to the phenomenal amount of physical and emotional growth and development that will take place over their first year. This can be really frustrating as you just get a grasp of the new phase only for it to change again.
Choose a Sleep Technique that you feel comfortable with and is Appropriate for the age of your Baby.This is really important when you are trying to teach your baby the skills of settling/resettling or are trying to change a sleep habit, be it cat-napping, weaning your baby off a sleep prop, early waking or habitual waking etc. Be prepared that most changes will be met with some resistance, especially from an older baby and you will most likely have a step backwards before you get a breakthrough. There is no quick fix so you will need to have a consistent approach, remain committed and very patient and remember that every baby is different so some babies may take longer than others.
Don’t make any changes at Nightwhen you are likely to be feeling tired and frustrated. Leave it until the following day and then make a clear plan. (Interestingly, most sleep issues at night are resolved by changes being made to your baby’s daytime routine).
When Settling your Baby, settle them in their room and place your baby down drowsy but awake. Always allow your baby a chance to settle on their own first but help your baby to settle or resettle if required until they learn these sleep skills. Avoid using movements to settle your baby that you cannot replicate in your baby’s bed, such as rocking, jiggling and swaying.
Last of all my 80:20 Rule. 80% of the time try to be as consistent as you can. Allow 20% room for some flexibility. This flexibility is important for those times when things are not quite going to plan or you are out and about and so routines are more challenging to follow or you are desperate to get some sleep so have chosen to use a sleep prop to settle your baby and for those times where you just want to enjoy a precious moment holding your baby to sleep in your arms etc. As long as you aim to be consistent for the majority of the time, breaking the rules every now and again is okay.
All the best with your little one and feel free to contact me at any time if you need any further advice or support.