Sleep issues can be very challenging at times to manage and this blog is written for those babies who are 4 months and older. 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 easier ways to support your baby with the skills of settling and resettling so that they can become an independent sleeper – a baby who is able to settle and resettle themselves most of the time.
Here are some basic guidelines for you to follow which may help you to achieve this:
Understand the Sleep Process. Sleep is vital to your baby’s well being. Learning about Sleep cycles, the 3 Phases of sleep and Encouraging and Establishing healthy sleep habits is also really important.
Recognise your Baby’s Tired Signs. Every baby is different, so your baby will have his/her own way of showing you that they are tired and ready for sleep. Once you see a sign, start the sleep 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 their different cries and react accordingly. This will build a trusting relationship between you and your baby and they will feel safe and secure knowing that their 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 your baby’s only form of communication.
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. (19C being the optimum temperature for sleep).
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 positive sleep associations and great cues to your baby that it is time to sleep.
Create a Routine for your baby: A routine will give you a rough guideline of when your baby needs to feed and sleep but is not a word that I use for newborns as they are not physiologically or biologically programmed for this. For those older babies however, routines can help build a healthy biological rhythm within your baby and will also help you, within reason, plan your day. Remember that it is only a guideline so you need to remain flexible, reacting to your baby’s 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. Instead their nervous system becomes overloaded, which results in them becoming stressed and are very difficult to settle. As you baby matures, their ability to switch off will improve as they mature.
Be aware of ‘Accidental Parenting’. This is not a term I particularly like but is the best way to describe it. It occurs when parents provide a quick fix solution that then 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.
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. These things can take away your baby’s natural ability to be able to self settle.
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 your baby has woken. Instead of rushing in, just wait and see first to give your baby a chance to resettle themselves back to sleep independently. Rushing in could also inadvertently disturb and wake your baby early from their sleep. It’s a balance of listening long enough to see if your baby will resettle on their own but not too long that your baby gets so worked up and is unable to be resettled back to sleep.
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 they will guide you with their cues. Though a newborn does not have the ability to self-soothe until at least 12-16 weeks, as a parent you can still learn some great information and skills so that you not only can support your newborn with sleep, understanding the importance of the 4th Trimester but you will also be prepared for when your baby’s brain starts to connect to behaviours and associations etc around their sleep.
Be Flexible and adapt to Changes.The only constant with babies is change itself and I know how frustrating this concept can be for mums – remember I have been there too! 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 during their first year. So many mums seem to get very anxious, stressed and overly focused about ‘Sleep Regressions’ or ‘Leaps’. These are not terms that I personally buy into. Babies are creating connections all the time and these are all really exciting moments, as you clearly see your baby’s brain accelerating and developing – so it is something to embrace and celebrate. Yes, it can mess with your baby’s sleep at times but be reassured that if you have healthy sleep habits in place, when your baby moves out of the ‘grey’ patch of any potential change to their sleep – be it because of neurological or emotional changes, teething, a change to their environment or that they have been unwell. If you have set your baby up well with a great sleep foundation that is age appropriate, then your baby will reset back to this very quickly with your nurturing and loving support. Babies are super smart!
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 Night: This is when 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 essential sleep skills. Avoid using movements to settle your baby that you cannot replicate in your baby’s bed, such as rocking, jiggling and swaying. At times these will be needed to get your baby to sleep to avoid your baby getting into that overtired vicious cycle or if they are needing extra nurturing but leave them as a last resort if you are able to.
Last of all my 80:20 Rule. (This does not apply to newborns – as you need to provide your newborn with whatever nurturing and support they need to settle/sleep). 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; 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. Feel free to contact me at any time if you would like any further advice or support or would be interested in doing one of my Personal Sessions or Workshops.