Paediatric sleep consultant Lucy Wolfe provides some top tips on getting baby to sleep.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is best for your baby, especially if they are agitated and you are finding it challenging to help settle them down to sleep.
There can be many challenges with getting to know your newborn, combined with an oversupply of well-meaning advice from others, that may confuse and overwhelm you.
The following advice may be helpful if certain factors are preventing your baby from sleeping properly.
If she is restless
Restlessness with young children may be caused by a number of contributory factors. Once you can rule out reflux or colic and milk sensitivities, then restlessness may be due to the fact that your child has become overtired and/or over-stimulated.
Restless sleep, where your child moves about a lot and appears to never fall into a deep restful sleep can be due to inadequate daytime sleep or simply a bedtime that happened too late. The best way of managing this situation is to implement a flexible feeding and sleeping rhythm for during the day. Maintain a regular wake time no later than 7.30am and make sure to provide frequent feeds throughout the course of the day.
Routine does help
You don’t need to be prescriptive, but it is good idea to have a somewhat predictable sequence to the day. Try to recognise the certain things that your baby might do before they get overtired.
The symptoms of being overtired may include intense and obvious eye rubbing, yawning, plus a sense of agitation or fussiness. Work on addressing sleep before your child displays the former symptoms – watch out for brief eye rubbing and yawning and maybe more importantly, a moment of being quiet. This can certainly help to alleviate restlessness. Make an effort also to ensure that you provide an adequate amount of wind down time before sleep, to help relax your baby and prepare their body for sleep.
If she keeps asking for small feeds
As each and every baby will have a different feeding need, it is very important that you endeavour to meet your baby’s specific requirements. Most young babies, in the early days, depending on your feeding practise and their capacity, will require feeding every one to three hours throughout a 24-hour period.
If you have already established a feeding rhythm, then you can start to easily identify what your child’s feeding call may be like. Not all babies will need to feed every time that they make noise. Sometimes, they may need to be put down to sleep and not be fed. I advise that you try to always keep a little checklist with regard to what your baby may require in that moment – for example:
- Is she warm enough?
- Is she under or over stimulated?
- Does she require a nappy change or a change of scene?
- Is she due or close to a feed time, or is it a sleep time?
- Is she comfortable or bored?
Understand her body language
Understanding that there may be subtle differences in her body language for each need is really important. Early feeding cues may be licking or pursing the lips, along with opening and closing their mouth.
They may start to suck on their lips, their hands or even a piece of clothing. Beginning to search for a feed with rooting, or positioning of the body and getting fidgety would be considered mid-range symptoms of feeding cues. You know that you are too late when they are crying and moving their head frantically. Try to meet their feeding needs in a timely fashion, as an upset baby will not feed as well.
You want to teach your baby to feel loved, safe and secure and that they don’t have to wait for their initial needs to be met. As your baby starts to get bigger, then the amount of time between night time feeds will generally start to get longer.
If she is teething
Teething can have a distinct impact on your child’s sleep. It is wise within the first six months of life to ensure you have started to establish healthy sleep habits that promote a level of sleep independence. This can reduce the tendency to wake up frequently during the night.
This approach, along with adequate and appropriately- timed daytime sleep can help to ensure that their nighttime sleep will not be disturbed during a teething episode. However, it is reasonable that a tooth’s journey will cause pain and discomfort overnight leading to night time activity, this is unavoidable. Have a response plan ready for these episodes – provide pain relief under your GP’s guidance and as much reassurance and attention as needed.
The teething stage does not go on for months without a break; the symptoms generally come and go. This episode will pass but make sure that during this time you do not begin any sleep practises such as unplanned bed sharing and unnecessary night time feeds.
If she is overtired
Ideally, we should try to prevent allowing our children to become overtired. Becoming overtired has a serious negative impact on mood and behaviour and your child’s overall ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Recognising the difference between getting tired and being overtired, as mentioned previously, can certainly help in this regard.
However, often that is not always enough and your under-rested child gets stuck in a cycle of overtiredness, and no amount of observing early sleep cues helps. In this event, using the powerful early bedtime approach can have immediate positive implications. Young children are biologically programmed to go to bed for the night relatively early. This emerges generally sometime after three months and before four months.
Early bedtime helps
With an overtired child, aiming for ‘in bed asleep’ before 7pm can help to pick up the sleep deficit and start to help your child become better rested. Observing a ‘super’ early bedtime of 6pm onwards, helps to undo the tired cycle, but it also enhances your child’s day time napping ability, so it is a strategy worth practising. This does not necessarily mean that you will always have to operate an early bedtime, but it is a great short-term solution in this instance. Keep in mind however, that most children under five years of age gain positively from being asleep before 8pm.
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