getting baby to sleep

Top tips on getting baby to sleep

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?

Top tips on getting baby to sleep

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.

More like this:

Help your baby sleep through the night
Baby sleep routines
Pros and cons of soothers


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.