Neither of my children were great sleepers as a baby. Exclusively breastfeeding a baby who refuses to take a bottle can be absolutely exhausting and waking up multiple times with her during the night without help meant that I never got a break. When I had my second child, I was determined that I wouldn’t make the same ‘mistakes’ again and would instead follow some of the sleep tips that I was given by friends and family. Unfortunately; life doesn’t always pan out the way that you expect it to and despite my best intentions, things didn’t quite go according to plan!
Here are the baby sleep tips I wish I had listened to!
- Encourage your baby to self-settle
Whilst those cozy sleepy cuddles with a newborn are an absolute joy (and it’s pretty hard to wake a sleeping baby if they fall asleep on the breast), putting a baby to bed when they are already in a deep asleep can cause no end of problems. Having fallen asleep calm and content in your arms, they wake and realise you are no longer there, meaning they are far more likely to get upset and need your assistance. As a result, you are likely to spend a LOT more of your night getting up and down to comfort your baby and it will take a whole lot longer to achieve that illusive good night’s sleep.
Ideally, you should attempt to put your baby to bed when awake and sleepy rather than rocking or feeding them to sleep, as this allows your baby to learn the art of self-settling. Instead of relying on you or other external factors to help them get to sleep, self-settling babies are able to use their own unique comforting techniques to settle back to sleep when they wake during the night.
- Don’t rush in too quickly when they wake
When your baby wakes during the night, it can be oh so tempting to rush in a tend to them immediately; particularly if there is the risk of waking older siblings or other family members. However, give them a moment. I used to rush in to my daughter at the start of the slightest murmur, without giving her the opportunity to settle herself. Whilst I am not suggesting you leave your baby to cry, ensure that they are fully awake and actually need you before rushing to be by their side. Count to 10, and if they are still awake and upset, try and gently calm them without picking them up or making them fully alert. Whilst it can be tempting to talk or sing to them, try and keep the noise to a minimum, sending little reminders that this is the time for sleep and not play.
- Be consistent – establish a consistent nap and bedtime routine.
Having a consistent and familiar bedtime routine can really help babies learn when it is time to go to bed. Whatever your bedtime routine looks like (for example, bath, pyjamas, story and bed) following the same order each night can help even very young babies recognise these cues and help them understand the difference between day and night.
- Look out for your babies’ sleep cues
Paying attention to your babies sleep cues (such as rubbing their ears, becoming very quiet or their eyes becoming glazed over) can help you identify when it’s time for their nap and prevent your baby becoming over tired and irritable. Paying close attention to these behaviours; particularly before they have established sleep cycles, can prevent battling against over stimulated or exhausted babies, which will take considerably longer to get to sleep.
- Don’t let them nap too long during the day (avoid the danger naps!)
As a new Mom, I used to love those long afternoon naps when my daughter was around 8 months old. Straight after lunch I would take her up to bed and she would happily sleep for a good few hours – even longer if I would let her. I soon learned the hard way however that allowing her to sleep for too long in the afternoons made bedtimes even more difficult. I soon did everything I could to avoid sleep after 3pm or accept that bedtime would shift much later as a result.
- Don’t creep about!
Finally, it can be very tempting with a newborn to do everything very quietly; especially if it’s taken your child a while to settle to sleep. We used to have whispered conversations, turn the TV right down and even avoid flushing the loo and once our daughters were in bed, terrified of the consequences of waking her up when we were already exhausted. In hindsight however, this may have created a bit of a rod for our own backs! Allowing your baby to become familiar with the background noise of normal life is actually really helpful and in time, can actually be a source of comfort.
What other sleep tips do you wish you’d followed?