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Helping your baby to sleep through the night is a goal for most parents. Sleep disruption is so distressing for most mothers that the sooner your baby sleeps through the night, the better. The tips below are in no particular order but by implementing them all you should be in for a better night’s sleep soon.
Put your baby on his side or back to sleep on a firm mattress without any pillows or duvets to limit the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome/ Cot death). Do not use duvets or blankets, rather keep your baby warm with a baby sleeping bag for safety and convenience.
- Sleep environment
For good sleep habits try having your baby in his own room (if possible) by three months, as you will both have more rested sleep in your own rooms. Make sure the room can be darkened for day sleeps and morning lie-ins by putting block out lining on the curtains or blinds. Use soft linen in the cot and for cool nights, warm the room up a little, without over heating your baby. For the slightly older baby (after 4 months) use a sleeping bag to keep your baby warm to prevent the classic 4am night waking due to kicking all the blankets off.
- Under three months
If your baby is very colicky in the evenings and you find bedtime is delayed to late due to fussing and crying, try to limit handling after 4 pm. Swaddle your baby in a 100% cotton, stretchy fabric such as the Baby Sense Cuddlewrap to help calm them and to limit night wakings due to uncontrolled body jerks.
- Bedtime routine
Have a consistent time for bed with a predictable routine leading up to bedtime. Between six and seven in the evening is an appropriate time for babies and toddlers. Start the evening routine with a soothing warm bath followed by a calming massage (for babies not suffering from colic – colicky babies do better having the massage in the morning). After bath, don’t leave your baby’s dimmed room and keep all interactions in the room calming with less handling and stimulation.
- Evening feed
Feed your baby as much as he will take before bedtime. If your breast milk supply seems low in the evenings, offer your baby a supplementary or top-up feed of expressed breast milk or formula milk before bed.
- Put your baby to bed awake
Rouse your baby after the last feed so that he has to fall asleep without the aid of props such as bottle or breast. The way in which your baby falls asleep in the evening will be what he expects in the middle of the night, i.e. bottle, breast, dummy/pacifier, rocking, etc.
- Handling fussing at bedtime
After three months, expect a little fussing as your baby settles himself to sleep. To manage this, without developing habits, leave your baby in his cot but sit with him, with your hand on him and encourage him to fall asleep after a little fussing.
- Night feeds
Never wake your baby at night for a feed, unless your paediatrician has instructed you to do so because your baby is ill or very underweight. Wait for your baby to signal that he is hungry at night.
- Calm night feeds
Keep the middle of the night feeds strictly business affairs – with no stimulation: keep the room dark, using a passage light to see for feeds. Don’t change your baby’s nappy or diaper at night feeds unless it is soiled or your baby has wet through the nappy. Limit the time for burping, your baby will settle best after a night feed if he is resettled quickly.
- Sleep coaching
Sleep coaching starts from around 4 months of age when you can start encouraging your baby to self sooth instead of relying on you to put him all the way to sleep. This is not sleep training or letting your baby. It is gently encouraging him to find his hands, fuss a little while he settles himself or allowing him to access other strategies. Only sleep train your baby after six months and then only after ruling out all other causes for night wakings. To sleep train your baby –
- give him the opportunity to self-calm by not responding immediately when he cries at night
- respond once your baby is really crying or within 5 minutes
- do not lift your baby from the cot, rather sit with him and encourage him to self-calm
- as hard as it is, sit with your baby for as long as it take for him to resettle. In this way your baby does not feel abandoned but get the message that you are there but he must go to sleep.
By Meg Faure