Remember back to the days of waking when, well – whenever you woke? These days long gone, as parents we face early morning wakings as a matter of routine. When your baby wakes at 6am, you reluctantly get out of bed and greet the day. But when your baby thinks the day starts at 4 or 5am, it’s not as easy to happily greet the morn! Meg Faure, co-author of Baby Sense looks at strategies to deal with this bleary issue.
The first step of dealing with the issue of early wakings is managing our own expectations. Babies and toddler do wake early – it is part of the deal. If your baby is over 6 months of age and goes down at 6 or 7 pm you can expect a wakeup call 10 to 12 hours later. This means that your baby could wake at between 4 and 7am. This does not mean you need to be up for the day at 4 and we will look at strategies to get an extra hour sleep later in the article.
Factors affecting wake up time Bedtime: The perfect for your baby’s bedtime is between 6 and 7 pm. Do not be tempted to put her down later in an attempt to get her to sleep later, it generally works the opposite and can disrupt her sleep more. With that in mind it does need to be said that if your baby is younger than 6 months and has slept for 10 straight hours, she may well be waking because she has almost had enough sleep or is hungry or thirsty.
Day sleeps: You need to make sure your baby has regular day sleeps, putting her down according to her awake times each day. Remember sleep begets sleep, so the more she sleeps in the day, the better she will sleep at night. However, if your baby is over 18 months and is waking very early in the morning, you can try to move her morning wake up time by limiting her day sleep to one hour instead of two hours. If she is grumpy and not making it to bedtime happily it will indicate that she was not ready for the limited day sleep. But often when toddlers get to two years old they don’t sleep a full 11 or 12 hours if their day sleep is too long.
Sleep comfort: To prevent early morning wakings, make sure your baby’s room is very dark as early dawn light maybe indicating to her that its morning. Also make sure she is warm enough by putting her in a sleeping bag, as our body temperature drops in the early hours of the morning. Use very good quality night nappies so that you know she is dry and her nappy is not too cold. Finally be sure that she has a sleep blanky or security object to help her resettle.
If she still wakes, there a few tricks to help her resettle until later:
- When you hear her cry after 4am, listen for 5 minutes, in case she re settles herself, which she may well start to do as she gets older.
- If she has been fussing for 5 minutes, go in and offer her her sleep blanky and gently tell her to go back to sleep. This probably won’t work, but it sets the expectation, which is important as she gets older.
- If that doesn’t work you can break the night rules in an attempt to get her back to sleep:
- Offer a warm bottle in the dark with no eye contact and do not change her nappy. This signals it’s a different feed from morning. Do not offer milk before 4am – rather offer cool boiled water.
- If she still won’t settle, take her into your bed and try go back to sleep with her. Don’t worry about habits – at this time of day, good sleepers don’t start to expect this at night
If all of this does not work, we suggest you and your partner take turns to do the early mornings. There is no point in having two tired parents. And finally know that you will be battling to get her up in time for school in 6 years time, so this doesn’t last forever!
By Meg Faure