Top Tips For Getting Your Baby To Sleep.
It's 3am and your three month old baby is screaming the house down. She only finished her last feed an hour ago so you can't understand why she is still crying. The truth of the matter is babies can be unpredictable. Sleeping for several hours one night and hardly any the next. Depending on whether you are breast feeding or bottle feeding, a baby's feeding pattern can vary slightly. However, in those first few months it is completely normal for your baby to wake up during the night for a feed and should your baby wake up crying several hours after her last feed you should assume that she is probably hungry. However, there are things you can do to help ensure that your baby (and therefore you) are sleeping well in between feeds.
Below are my top tips for ensuring that you and your 0-4 month old is getting good quality sleep in between feeds. I have specified 0-4 months as it is important to establish good patterns from the get go. However most of the suggestions I give also apply to older babies. I have referred to the baby using the feminine pronoun of 'she' just for convenience.
- Swaddle your new born.
Very young babies will feel more secure if they are swaddled in their Moses basket or crib. Having been in the womb they are used to their bodies being tighly wrapped in a small space. It also ensures that they are warm enough.
- The ideal temperature for your baby's room should be 18 degrees C or 64.4 F
If your baby's room is too hot or too cold it will affect how well she sleeps. You can always use a thicker blanket to swaddle her if it is very cold. You can buy a temperature gauge for the room at a low cost from most stores which sell baby paraphanaelia.
- Ensure that the room is as dark as possible.
Babies are very sensitive to light and even the smallest chink of light can affect how well a baby sleeps. This is why it is so important to try and put your baby down for her daytime naps in the same room that she sleeps in at night and to make sure it is pitch black. Toddlers that become scared of the dark tend to have been babies who slept in rooms with night lights or the door ajar. If you put your child to sleep in complete darkness with the door closed from the beginning, she will always associate darkness with sleep and will be comforted by it rather than frightened. You can buy black out blinds and covers to attach to windows and curtains to ensure that no light can get in. Purchasing a baby monitor will give you peace of mind so that you can shut your baby's bedroom door and still listen out for her.
- Conduct night time feeds in the dark (or as dark as is possible so that you can still see what you are doing!)
Turning a light on to feed your baby will rouse her from sleep and make it harder for you to settle her back to sleep.
- Don't change your baby's diaper in the middle of the night unless absolutely necessary.
Similarly, changing your baby's diaper in the middle of the night is going to rouse her from the sleepy dream like state you want her to be in as you feed her. Unless your baby's diaper is soiled or wet through, it is pefectly safe to leave changing her until the morning.
- Soothe your baby with cooled boiled water.
Sometimes your new born will wake up even when she is not hungry. This could be due to wind. This can be avoided by ensuring you spend long enough winding her after a night feed. However, if she is waking up frequently in between feeds, has had a big enough feed, and does not appear to be suffering with wind, she may be waking up out of habit or looking for comfort. No parent would want to deny their child comfort but it is important that your baby learns from a young age that night time is for sleeping. If you attend to every whimper from her, she will very quickly learn that she need only make a small noise and she will have your attention. Sometimes a young baby just needs the comfort of suckling. A few sips of cooled boiled water from a bottle can be enough to settle her back to sleep. Try to really listen to your baby's different cries and you will soon learn to distinguish a hunger cry from a habitual cry for night time attention.
- Give your baby a chance to self-soothe
Around about your baby's fourth month when you will be more familiar with her different types of cry, you can begin to practice allowing her to learn to self-soothe. This is a very important skill for your baby to learn and the earlier she learns to do it the more sleep both of you will get. It can be very disressing to hear your baby crying but you should rest assured that providing she is well fed, winded, her diaper is not soiled and she is in good general health, she is not in any danger. If you can be sure of these things, then it is highly likely that she is crying out for attention. It might sound harsh to say you should deny your baby this attention and I want to be clear that I am not suggesting you ignore a screaming baby but what I am saying, is that you should try and allow her to attempt to soothe herself before you intervene. Never leave a very young baby crying for longer than a few minutes and an older baby for no more than 5-10 minutes depending on their age. However, what you can do if it has been a few minutes and she has not stopped crying, (providing you know her to be well fed etc) is quietly creep into the room, perhaps stroke her forehead and softly reassure her with your voice. Then, step back and just sit with her for a few moments before slowly edging back out of the room. She may start to cry again but she will know that you are not far. See if you can leave her a little longer each time before going in. This is a tough one but I promise you that with perserverance and repetition your baby will learn to settle herself and as a result will sleep through the night much sooner.
- Try not to allow your baby to nap too late in the day.
New born babies can spend up to 16 hours out of every 24 sleeping. However after the first couple of months when a feeding pattern is beginning to be established you can try and time the feeds so that she is having her last day feed late afternoon. She may then fall asleep which is fine so long as you are rousing her by 5-5:30 at the latest to ensure she is ready for her night time feed and bedtime around 7-7:30.
- Establish a strict bedtime routine early on.
If you can get your baby into a bedtime routine early on, your baby will come to associate this with sleep and will therefore be more likely to fall asleep at a reasonable hour, giving you something of an evening to enjoy. A well rested baby is a happy baby and babies and children love routine so you are showing them nurture and love when you follow a consistent pattern. By trying to make sure your baby does not sleep beyond 5-5:30pm, she should be ready to go down for the night at 7-7:30. It is very important that she is not over stimulated between 5 and 7pm as this will make her overexcited and less likely to sleep. Young babies cannot cope with over stimulation and if she is overtired she will become distressed and you will find it harder to settle her. If you are having guests over try and encourgage them to leave by the late afternoon or come after your baby has gone to bed. If you are out for the day try where you can to be home in time for the bedtime routine. Giving your baby a bath every evening before her bedtime feed will help get her ready for sleep. For most babies, bath time relaxes them and helps them come to associate bath time with bedtime. Give the bedtime feed in her bedroom with as little light as possible to ensure that she knows it is time to go to sleep.
- Try and ensure that your baby sleeps in her crib preferably in her own room (from 2-3 months on) for all naps as well as at night.
It is important that your baby associates her room and her crib with sleep. If you put her down for daytime naps in her crib she will settle more quickly as she will associate it with going to bed at night time. Your baby will establish a connection with her surroundings fairly early on and will enjoy the security of her room and crib. The sooner she gets used to sleeping in her own room (if this is possible of course) the sooner she will learn to self-soothe when she wakes in the night and you will get a better night's sleep too. Of course, you want to have flexibility for when you are out and about in which case it may not always be possible for her to nap in her crib but wherever possible try to stick to this routine.
I hope that these simple but effective tips are of some help. All babies are unique and may respond differently to different tactics. The key really, is consistency. Whatever you do and whatever works for you and your baby ensure that it is as consistent as possible as your baby loves routine even if you don't! It is also important to note that if your baby is sick or going through a growth spurt they will naturally be less settled and probably wake up more at night. Don't try and leave your baby to self-soothe if she is sick, she needs attention and comfort. It takes 3 days for a baby or toddler to adapt to a new routine so be patient and perservere. If your baby has been sick it will take a few days for her to get back into her usual routine so don't fear that all is lost, just continue to be consistent.