Sleep baby, sleep

Nothing makes me feel worse than disturbed nights. I've always needed my eight hours. But if you have a new baby you know that getting up in the night will feature in your life for some months.

But once your baby is older, perhaps six months or so, you might be thinking that it's time to gently nudge her into sleeping for a longer chunk of time.

Here are some ways parents have been successful in doing this.

  • Putting the baby's cot into her own room. You might be waking her every time you roll over in your sleep, snore (yes, even you) or murmur. Equally, she might be waking you by snuffling, sighing or making what you might euphemistically call plumbing noises. If she's in a nearby room you'll still hear her if she cries. Doctors and health visitors recommend keeping younger babies in your room but as they get to six months or so it's fine to relocate them.
  • Try a sleeping bag. Our youngest slept much better from about four months when we bought him a baby sleeping bag. So taken was he with the bag that when he grew too big for it and moved onto the next size he still took the baby bag with him to bed, and a fragment of it continued to play a part in his life for some years to come. Babies kick off blankets and wake up because they're cold. This is an easy fix.
  • Cut out milk. By six months or so most babies may be able to get through the night without needing topping up. You could ease this process by perhaps offering milk in a cup, then water and then finally nothing.
  • When the baby cries go into the room, stroke her head or pat her back and go out again. Don't pick her up. Go back again in five minutes or before if she's really distressed. By now you should know the difference between the in-pain or in-distress or scared cry and the 'I don't know what to do with myself so I'll see if you've got any ideas' cry. You may well need to keep going back in many times in the first few nights. But many people will have success after a couple of attempts.
    Please note that it's essential that your husband or partner is on board with this. You need someone to back you up. In fact it can work well if it's not the mother doing the five or ten-minutely checks. Mothers, especially breast-feeding ones, mean milk and this is not the message for three in the morning. You do need to be tough here. Not with your baby, but with yourself. The baby knows that you're there. You're proving that by coming in when she cries. But unless there's a problem: nappy/teething/unwell/thirsty, you're not going to be doing picking up and singing, etc.

Some babies are always going to be better sleepers than others. But it's really worth trying to wring a few extra undisturbed hours from an infant of this age. If you sleep well you'll be more energetic in the morning, more fun for the baby and for everyone else in the family. Happy, rested mothers make happy, relaxed babies. By encouraging good sleep habits you're helping to develop a child who'll sleep well later in life.