Sleep or the lack of it - thanks to a fussy baby at night - is a hot topic for most new parents. A good night’s sleep for you and your baby becomes more and more precious with each passing sleepless night especially with the wealth of well-meaning onlookers ready with their matchstick burning hints and tips. If your baby is not sleeping, it could be for a variety of reasons, but the reality is that very few babies sleep consistently well. Throughout your baby’s first year there will be sleep regression, teething, colds and coughs all of which will impact your baby’s sleep routine. The important thing to remember is that even when sleep is in short supply, you and your baby’s sleep will improve with time.
It is often helpful to share stories of ‘sleepless nights’ with fellow new parents because it can be comforting to know that you are not alone when you are up in the wee hours of the night attempting to make your baby sleep. Other parents, friends and family will freely offer advice on how to get your baby to sleep by sharing examples of what has worked for them. Even your own parents may have stories from your youth and share their tips on how to get your baby to sleep. Today there is a lot more support and resource available for parents suffering from sleep deprivation and a lot more information available. Some of it is helpful, some of it can be overwhelming.
The problem is, when you are bleary eyed and caffeine fueled and suffering from new parent sleep deprivation, it can be difficult to know what fact or fiction is. What works for one family may not work for another. Babies are unique and so are families and it is important to find solutions that promote sleep and that fit and work for you.
To help you get your baby to sleep, bust through the top 5 sleep myths surrounding babies sleep, and get some shut eye of your own, our very own Honest Midwife, Louise Broadbridge is here with some sound advice…
1. You must be as quiet as a field mouse to make baby sleep!
Babies like noise. Going from the hustle and bustle of the womb where there was blood whooshing and heart beating, being in total silence can be a little alarming for babies. In fact, everyday noises around the house can almost be comforting and can help to get your baby to sleep (and stay asleep for longer). If you try to protect your baby’s sleep environment the slightest daily noise (amazon delivery, dog barking, plate smashing) will have your baby wide-eyed and wanting to join the party. Keep a light level of hustle and bustle going during the day to help your baby sleep through these daily noises.
If your home is particularly quiet, you can look to add some white noise (think of the whirring of your washing machine) or pink noise (forest sounds and rainfall), some parents find the sound of a fan in the background (not blowing on baby) a useful backdrop to a good night’s sleep. There are some baby monitors and nursery items that play white noise and pink noise and are a handy addition to the nursery. Not only will these sounds support your baby in falling asleep but will also help to block out those annoying sounds from around the house and outside that can wake a sleeping baby. An alternative to white and pink noise is to play lullabies or perhaps some classical music to soothe your baby to sleep.
2. Baby won’t sleep without a nightlight!
We are not born afraid of the dark! Watching “bump in the night” TV will do that to us. If anything, your baby was in darkness when in the womb so having their sleep environment dark will not bring about fear. It may be a comfort to them. If you are finding that baby cries when in a darkened room when put down, it is more likely to be because they don’t want to be separated from mum. A darkened room is an important part of creating a good sleep environment for your baby. A darkened room will become part of your baby’s sleep routine, indicating to them that it is time to sleep when the lights go down.
For daytime naps, it is a good idea to try and replicate the darkened room. Closing the curtains will create a good sleep environment.
A night light can be handy for those middle of the night feeds to help see where you are going. If you are choosing a nightlight, find one that allows you to dial up and down the light intensity, so you can have the light completely off to allow your baby to sleep and add a little bit of light whilst you feed your baby. It is important not to turn bright lights on for nigh time – this will signal to your baby that it is time to get up and play, which at 2am is the last thing you will want. Very dim lights will ensure your baby returns to sleep as quickly as possible after their feed.
With the arrival of summer and its long days, creating a darkened room for baby’s bedtime may become more difficult. Some parents install blackout blinds in the nursery to ensure those little sunbeams don’t become the reason that your baby wont sleep.
3. Your baby is not sleeping because they are hungry.
Obviously, in the early months of having a newborn this is absolutely true and, we shouldn’t be trying to get babies to sleep through the night. Your baby will need regular feeds throughout the day and night to fuel their growth and development. In between feeding there will be plenty of naps too but the around the clock feeding will mean both you and baby are waking through the night. Whilst this can be exhausting, it is only until your baby reaches around 4 months. At that stage, they can safely be left to sleep for longer periods. A baby waking during the night is not a reason to introduce solid food before the recommended six months of age.
If your newborn is not sleeping through the night, parents will become increasingly tired. The best advice I give to parents to support through these sleepless nights is to try and rest when your baby sleeps during the day. The temptation to do the household chores when your baby takes a nap is great, but I would strongly recommend grabbing 40 winks yourself whilst your baby sleeps. It will leave you feeling refreshed and with more energy to dedicate to your newborn.
Some parents find it useful to track baby’s sleep. This will help you to understand how much sleep your baby is getting and when your baby tends to sleep. You will see this pattern change as they grow and having an idea of their natural routine will help you to manage your baby’s sleep regression which can happen at various points throughout their first year.
There is plenty of advice from experts online illustrating how much sleep a baby should be getting for their age, from when they are newborns and as the grow through their first year. Tracking their sleep patterns will help you to know if your baby is getting enough sleep.
Alternatively, speak with your health visitor about when is the right time for your baby to be sleeping through the night. They have lots of experience with babies sleep and parent’s worries.
Many babies continue to wake through the night well beyond 4months and want the comfort a bottle or breastfeed gives to help them nod back off. Some parents may introduce a dummy to soothe their baby to sleep as an alternative to comfort feeds. This is a good idea and works for many families and babies, as long as parents don’t become the ‘dummy butler’ waking several times a night to replace the baby’s dummy which can sometimes be more disruptive than the comfort feed. Comfort feeding is exactly that, for the comfort of baby and often for the parent too.
Many parents enjoy those quiet nighttime feeds and there is nothing wrong with doing that if it works for your family. Some families do just fine with nighttime waking by sharing the load, so each parent gets a good dose of shut-eye. Other families struggle with the lack of sleep or perhaps don’t have a partner to share the load and will be looking to get on top of the sleepless nights sooner rather than later. It is all down to you, your baby and your circumstances as to what works best.
4. Try a later bedtime to make baby sleep!
Nooooooooo! It may seem logical that keeping your baby up a little later may give you payback in the early morning hours, but… babies that are kept from sleeping become over-tired which, in turn, can make them more restless and prone to broken sleep patterns. Very often a baby who goes to sleep later will wake more frequently at night. The later your baby goes to sleep also seldom translates into a later wake-up time (sorry for those who would love a lie-in), in most cases baby will wake up at their normal time, just having had less sleep and as a result be cranky during the day. Making sure your baby is not over-stimulated in the evening will make it easier for them to sleep. A baby who is exposed to lots of activity such as visitors or playing games is less likely to settle at bedtime. If visitors arrive, your baby will not want to miss out on the excitement and FOMO will prevent them from settling to sleep. This is when a bedtime routine comes into play, a gradual wind-down at the end of a day that helps your baby to drift off to sleep.
The time that a baby ‘usually’ goes to sleep will vary from family to family. Some families prefer their baby to go to bed a little later because they work whilst others may be happier with an ‘early to bed’ approach. The key is consistency and routine around bedtime to make it easy for your baby to sleep and to ensure your baby is getting the sleep they need to fuel their growth and development. Sleep really does promote sleep so, keep to a reasonable bedtime for baby.
5. Cut out daytime naps to help baby sleep!
Another big no no! Babies do need sleep. They have lots of growing and developing to do and that requires plenty of sleep. Make sure your baby is getting the right amount of daytime sleep for their age. Cutting daytime naps will simply result in your baby not getting the sleep that they need, being over-tired and finding it even more difficult to sleep at night. A newborn will need lots of daytime sleep but as they grow, they will spend more time awake during the day and those daytime naps will reduce in length.
Whilst daytime naps are essential, it is important to be mindful of the timings of the last nap of the day. After a late afternoon or early evening nap your baby will not be tired at bedtime and struggle to go to sleep or wake more frequently through the night. Even as an adult you may struggle to sleep well at night following a late afternoon nap and it is the same for babies.
If your baby is enjoying an afternoon nap at a reasonable hour, you can then set about a bedtime routine that will create the best possible environment for your baby to fall asleep and enjoy a good night’s rest.
Many parents start the bedtime routine with bath time. A warm bath can soothe and relax your baby and help them to wind down for bedtime. Once snuggled up and smelling delicious as only a freshly bathed baby can, try a bedtime story. Reading stories to your baby not only provides quality one on one time hearing your voice and enjoying a cuddle but also fosters a love of reading which will help your baby later on.
Finish your bedtime routine with bottle or breastfeeding, enjoying the comfort of a cuddle and with a full tummy your baby will drift into a wonderful slumber.
So, keep the daytime naps, make sure they don’t run close to bedtime and create a nice bedtime routine to support your baby’s sleep.
There you have it – 5 myths busted and hopefully some good advice that will help everyone in your family to get a good night’s sleep. Remember that every baby is unique, and each family is different. What works for one parent and child may not work for another – and that is true even for babies in the same family!
The key is finding what works for your family and being consistent. Babies like routine so the more you can introduce routine around sleep, the easier it should be for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you are concerned or need advice, don’t hesitate to contact your health visitor, they have plenty of experience and are there to help support you and offer support that is relevant for your baby’s age and stage.
We'd love to hear how you get your baby to sleep or if you’ve come across any baby sleep training myths that you’d like to help other mums to avoid. Get in touch and send your stories and advice to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @bluebellfamily.